The provincial government is cutting financial barriers for medications that help British Columbians treat opioid-use disorder – and it’s the first in the country to do so.
Individual medical services plans are now fully covering medications part of opioid agonist treatment. The treatment sees individuals take methadone, buprenorphine/naloxone or slow-release oral morphine to counter their dependence on heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl among other opioids.
Experts consider the opioid agonist treatment part of a multi-pronged response to the illicit toxic drug crisis that has killed more than 12,000 people since the public health emergency was declared in 2016.
Opioid agonist treatment is not a form of prescribed safe supply, a harm-reduction model which sees physicians prescribe pharmaceutical alternatives to illicit drugs in the face of toxic illicit drugs. But prescribed safe supply can often serve as first step for individuals accessing addiction treatment, the provincial government said in a release announcing the expansion.
The change came into effect on June 6 as B.C. is the first province to cover opioid agonist treatment under its respective provincial medical plan.
Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside said including the treatment under MSP will help people get the help they need.
“Removing these cost barriers to medication-assisted treatment will help more people stabilize their lives, prevent deaths and stay on their journey to wellness as our government continues to build a system of mental-health and addictions care that works for everyone.”
The expansion benefits about 1,600 patients, who paid for medications out of pocket in 2021-22 as PharmaCare covers the rest of the 34,520 patients who used it.
Eligible patients who did not access opioid agonist treatment medications because of cost reasons or because they struggle to register for PharmaCare will also benefit from the expansion.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the improved access strengthens the public health care system.
“By reducing financial barriers to opioid agonist treatment medication, we’re making it easier for people to get the care they need and helping create more equitable health outcomes for people in B.C.”