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Red Deer Primary Care Network – Job Opportunity

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Pharmacist
(0.8 – 1.0 FTE Permanent)

We are seeking a qualified Pharmacist with exceptional communication skills to fill a permanent 0.8-1.0 FTE. The Pharmacist will enhance primary care through the provision of services for patients in the patient’s medical home.

Within the generalist pharmacist role, you will provide pharmacy services to the population of patients seen by the family physician. Areas of focus include structured medication reviews relating to chronic pain management and geriatric assessment, as well as other medication.

We are looking for someone who has:

• Recent complex care clinical experience

• Additional Prescribing Authorization (APA) or actively working toward APA a requirement

• Must have strong values towards teamwork and interpersonal skills.

• Excellent knowledge of community resources.

• Current professional registration.

• Mandatory COVID-19 immunization policy in effect.

Act Now and Apply

Submit your curriculum vitae to [email protected] or by fax to 403.342.9502

Only selected candidates for an interview will be contacted.

Red Deer Primary Care Network (RDPCN) is a partnership between Family Doctors and Alberta Health Services. Health professionals such as psychologists, social workers, nurses and pharmacists work in clinics alongside family doctors. In addition, programs and groups are offered at the RDPCN central location. This improves access to care, health promotion, chronic disease management and coordination of care. RDPCN is proud of the patient care offered, the effective programs it has designed and the work it does with partners in health care and the community. www.reddeerpcn.com

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Addictions

“Safer supply” reminiscent of the OxyContin crisis, warns addiction physician

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Dr. Lori Regenstreif, MD, MSc, CCFP (AM), FCFP, MScCH (AMH), CISAM, has been working as an addiction medicine physician in inner city Hamilton, Ontario, since 2004. She co-founded the Shelter Health Network in 2005 and the Hamilton Clinic’s opioid treatment clinic in 2010, and helped found the St. Joseph’s Hospital Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) clinic.

[This article is part of Break The Needle’s “Experts Speak Up” series, which documents healthcare professionals’ experiences with Canada’s “safer supply” programs] By: Liam Hunt

Dr. Lori Regenstreif, an addiction physician with decades of experience on the frontlines of Canada’s opioid crisis, is sounding the alarm about the country’s rapidly expanding “safer supply” programs.

While proponents of safe supply contend that providing drug users with free tablets of hydromorphone – a pharmaceutical opioid roughly as potent as heroin – can mitigate harms, Dr. Regenstreif expresses grave concern that these programs may inadvertently perpetuate new addictions and entrench existing opioid use.

She sees ominous similarities between safer supply and the OxyContin crisis of the late 1990s, when the widespread overprescribing of opioids flooded North American communities with narcotics, sparking an addiction crisis that continues to this day. Having witnessed the devastating consequences of OxyContin in the late 1990s, she believes that low-quality and misleading research is once again encouraging dangerous overprescribing practices.

Flashbacks to the OxyContin Crisis

Soon after Dr. Regenstreif received her medical license in Canada, harm reduction became the primary framework guiding her practice in inner-city Vancouver. This period coincided with Health Canada’s 1996 regulatory approval of oxycodone (brand name: OxyContin) based on trials, sponsored by Purdue Pharma, that failed to assess the serious risks of misuse or addiction.

Dr. Regenstreif subsequently witnessed highly addictive prescription opioids flood North American streets while Purdue and its distributors reaped record profits at the expense of vulnerable communities. “That was really peaking in the late 90s as I was coming into practice,” she recounted during an extended interview with Break The Needle. “I was being pressured to prescribe it as well.”

Oxycodone addiction led to the deaths of tens of thousands of individuals in the United States and Canada. As a result, Purdue Pharma faced criminal penalties, fines, and civil settlements amounting to 8.5 billion USD, ultimately leading to the company’s bankruptcy in 2019.

During the OxyContin crisis, patients would regularly procure large amounts of pharmaceutical opioids for resale on the black market – a process known as “diversion.” Dr. Regenstreif has seen alarming indications that safer supply hydromorphone is being diverted at similarly high levels, and estimated that, out of her patient pool, “15 to 20 out of maybe 40 people who have to go to a pharmacy frequently” have reported witnessing diversion.

Between one to two thirds of her new patients have told her that they are accessing diverted hydromorphone tablets – in many cases, the tablets almost certainly originate from safer supply.

Injecting crushed hydromorphone tablets pose severe health risks, including endocarditis and spinal abscesses. “I’ve seen people become quadriplegic and paraplegic because the infection invaded their spinal cord and damaged their nervous system,” said Dr. Regenstreif. While infections can be mitigated by reducing the number of times drug users inject drugs into their bodies, she says that safer supply programs do not discourage or reduce injections.

She further noted, “I’ve seen a teenager in [the] hospital getting their second heart valve replacement because they continue to inject after the first one.” The pill that nearly stopped the patient’s heart was one of the tens of thousands of hydromorphone tablets handed out daily via Canadian safe supply programs.

Her experiences are consistent with preliminary data from a scientific paper published by JAMA Internal Medicine in January, which found that safe supply distribution in British Columbia is associated with a “substantial” increase in opioid-related hospitalizations, rising by 63% over the first two years of program implementation — all without reducing deaths by a statistically significant margin.

While Dr. Regenstreif has worked in a variety of settings, from Ontario’s youth correctional system to Indigenous healing facilities in the Northwest Territories, her experiences in Australia, where she worked during a sabbatical year from 2013 to 2014, were particularly educational.

Australia has far fewer opioid-related deaths than Canada – in 2021, opioid mortality rates were 3.8 per 100,000 in Australia and 21 per 100,000 in Canada (a difference of over 500%). Dr. Regenstreif credited this difference to Australia’s comparatively controlled opioid landscape, where access to pharmaceutical narcotics is tightly regulated.

“Heroin had been a long-standing street opioid. It was really the only opioid you tended to see, because the only other ones people could get a prescription for were over-the-counter, low-potency codeine tablets,” she said. To this day, opioid prescriptions in Australia require special approval for repeat supplies, preventing stockpiling and street diversion.

No real evidence supports “safer supply”

Critics and whistleblowers have argued that Canadian safe supply programs, which have received over $100 million in federal funding through Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP), were initiated without adhering to the rigorous evidentiary standards typically required to classify medication as “safe.”

Dr. Regenstreif shares these concerns and says that no credible studies show that safer supply saves lives, and that little effort is invested into exploring its possible risks and unintended consequences – such as increased addiction, hospitalization, overdose and illicit diversion to youth and vulnerable individuals.

Most studies which support the experiment simply interview recipients of safer supply and then present their answers as objective evidence of success. Dr. Regenstreif criticized these qualitative studies as methodologically flawed “customer satisfaction surveys,” as they are “very selective” and rely on small, bias-prone samples.

“If you have 400 people in a program, and you get feedback from 12, and 90% of those 12 said X, that’s not [adequate] data,” said Dr. Regenstreif, criticizing the lack of follow-up often shown safer supply researchers. “Nobody seems to track down the […] people who were not included. Did they get kicked out of the program? [Did they engage in] diversion? Did they die? We’re not hearing about that. It doesn’t make any sense in an empirical scientific universe.”

Safe supply advocates typically argue that opioids themselves are not problematic, but rather their unregulated and illicit supply, as this allows for contaminants and unpredictable dosing. However, studies have found that opioid-related deaths rise when narcotics, legal or not, are more widely available.

Dr. Regensteif is calling upon harm reduction researchers to build a more robust evidence base before calling for the expansion of safer supply. That includes more methodologically rigorous and transparent quantitative research to evaluate the full impact of Canada’s harm reduction strategies. Forgoing this evidence or adequate risk-prevention measures could lead to consequences as catastrophic as those resulting from Purdue’s deceptive marketing of OxyContin, she said.

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Critics propose solutions despite bullying

Dr. Regenstreif has faced pressure and exclusion for speaking out against safe supply. She estimates that while only a quarter of her local colleagues shared her doubts a few years ago, “now I would say more than half” harbor the same concerns. However, many are reluctant to voice their reservations publicly, fearing professional or social repercussions. “People who don’t want to speak out don’t want to be labeled as right-wing […] they don’t want to be labeled as conservative.”

While she acknowledges that safe supply may play a limited role for a small subset of patients, she believes it has been oversold as a panacea without adequate safeguards or due evaluation. “It doesn’t seem as if policymakers are listening to the people on the ground who have experience in doing this,” she said.

She contends that the solution to Canada’s addiction crisis lies in a more holistic, recovery-oriented approach that includes all four pillars of addiction: harm reduction, prevention, treatment, and enforcement. Her vision includes a national network of publicly-funded, rapid-access addiction medicine clinics with integrated counseling and wraparound services.

Additionally, Dr. Regenstreif stresses the importance of building upon established opioid agonist treatments (OAT), like methadone and buprenorphine, rather than solely relying on novel approaches whose social and medical risks are not yet fully understood.

At the core of Dr. Regenstreif’s advocacy lies a profound dedication to her patients and to the science of addiction medicine. “I like to think I kind of am fear-mongering with my patients, [by] trying to make them afraid of not getting better,” she explains. “I don’t want them to end up in the hospital and not come back out. I don’t want them to end up dead.”


[This article has been co-published with The Bureau, a Canadian media outlet that tackles corruption and foreign influence campaigns through investigative journalism. Subscribe to their work to get the latest updates on how organized crime influences the Canadian drug trade.]

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Addictions

Harm-reduction activists could find common ground with critics if they kept an open mind

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By Rahim Mohamed

The recovery-oriented PROSPER Symposium was protested by harm reduction activists.

A star-studded symposium on recovery-oriented drug policy went off without a hitch in Vancouver on Thursday, despite efforts by several prominent harm-reduction activists to sabotage the event.

Harm-reduction activists oppose the enforcement of criminal laws prohibiting public drug use and the prioritization of treatment and recovery-oriented policies.

Yet, if these activists had attended the symposium rather than undermining it, they likely would have found they agreed with many of the speakers’ points.

The PROSPER symposium — which stands for Policy Roundtable on Substance Prevention, Education, and Recovery — was moved to a new venue after organizers caught wind of credible threats to the event’s security. Audio recordings  leaked before the symposium depicted activists brainstorming ways to disrupt the proceedings, including by dyeing fountains red, shouting down speakers and honking horns.

The last-minute venue change didn’t stop a handful of protestors affiliated with the group Moms Stop the Harm from picketing the event. Some held photographs of lost loved ones. Others commented to on-location news crews at various points throughout the day.

Fortunately, the event’s logistical challenges didn’t dissuade three high-profile elected officials — Official Opposition leader and leader of BC United Kevin Falcon, BC Conservative Party leader John Rustad and Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West — from attending the conference.

Even though PROSPER was a success, one can’t help but lament the missed opportunity for the event’s organizers and detractors to come together to find common ground on sensible drug policy.

Speaker after speaker reaffirmed the importance of the 4 Pillars approach to combating drug addiction and dependence. This approach says harm reduction plays an important role in drug policy, but also recognizes the importance of three other pillars: treatment, prevention and enforcement.

No speakers denied the importance of harm reduction; they only said they would like to see a more balanced approach that is recovery-oriented and sees harm reduction as one tool among many.

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One presenter, Dr. Launette Rieb of the University of British Columbia, shared findings from her research on the efficacy of supervised opioid agonist therapy, which involves using medications such as Suboxone to help patients taper their opioid use.

While some harm-reduction activists have been critical of providers of this therapy, many others advocate for its use and want to expand access to it. Why boycott a presentation about this treatment option?

Dr. Pouya Azar, a psychiatrist with Vancouver Coastal Health, had audience members watch snippets from recorded interviews he conducted with opioid-addicted patients. One of the interview subjects told Azar that his mom also used, and noted that taking drugs was one of the few activities they still did together.

These clips underscored the significance of environmental and psychosocial factors in facilitating lasting recovery. This is an idea that harm-reduction activists, at least in theory, also recognize.

The conference placed a strong emphasis on Indigenous perspectives on addiction and recovery. Indigenous leaders shared stories of how addiction had impacted their families and communities.

Harm-reduction activists often emphasize the importance of ensuring Indigenous perspectives are incorporated in treatment approaches. It seems unlikely they would have been offended by these presentations.

“I think many harm-reduction activists are well-intended, hardworking and want the right thing,” said former senior White House drug policy advisor Kevin Sabet and one of the conference’s organizers.

“But they’ve also been led astray by a much smaller group of people who want to dress up radical ideas with sympathetic faces,” he said. “It is in that small band’s group of interest to distort the truth and spread lies about what we are about.”

Sabet and fellow conference organizers have promised to meet with some of the protesters, including parents who lost their children to overdose, at a later point to find areas of agreement.

In the spirit of protecting open discussion, PROSPER also admitted several individuals who work for organizations that were implicated in the leaked audio recordings.

In his closing keynote, Stanford psychology professor Dr. Keith Humphreys expressed cautious optimism about the future of drug policy. He noted that some of the US’ most drug-addled jurisdictions, such as San Francisco and Portland, have recently taken meaningful steps toward sensible drug policies, including ramping up law enforcement in neighbourhoods with high concentrations of drug users.

“I think reality is our friend,” Humphreys said. The past few years have shown that “people who live in an ideological world can recover,” he added, referring to hardline ideological approaches to drug use and other urban issues that have become less popular in recent years.

It’s a shame that some of the people who may have benefited most from Humphreys’ message weren’t in attendance to hear what he had to say. By protesting initiatives like PROSPER, rather than engaging in good-faith dialogue with those who hold different views, these activists are hurting their own cause.

It’s too bad that they’re too blinded by their own ideology to see this.

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