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Faced with lengthy waits, Victoria addicts seek help in Nanaimo

A Victoria non-profit group has started a service to drive people to Nanaimo to get methadone and suboxone prescriptions because the wait time to see a doctor is much shorter. “A lot of clients would say: ‘I can’t see a doctor for weeks.
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Lucy Hagos of the Daily Dose Society, left, and client Amanda Visona outside the STS Pain Pharmacy in Victoria on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. The pharmacy houses the society, which runs the Wheels for Recovery program, taking drug-users to Nanaimo to get prescriptions for suboxone and methadone.

A Victoria non-profit group has started a service to drive people to Nanaimo to get methadone and suboxone prescriptions because the wait time to see a doctor is much shorter.

“A lot of clients would say: ‘I can’t see a doctor for weeks.’ So when this new clinic opened in Nanaimo and said they were taking clients, we saw an opportunity,” said Lucy Hagos, operations manager at the Daily Dose Society, which operates the Wheels for Recovery program.

Methadone and suboxone are the two main drugs used to treat people who are addicted to opioids.

Last week, the Times Colonist wrote about the Antrobus family who said they were forced to help their daughter buy street methadone because the wait time to see a doctor for a prescription was two weeks to a month.

There are two clinics in Victoria that specialize in addictions treatment, with doctors who have federal approval to prescribe methadone. But it is unclear how many doctors in the city have this training, something the Antrobus family said is a concern in the midst of an overdose crisis that has claimed more than 950 lives in B.C. since 2015.

“We definitely get a lot of traffic and interest by word of mouth,” said Hagos, adding this shows where the needs are.

The Daily Dose formed as non-profit a few months ago from a group of volunteers who issue a thrice-weekly newsletter for those struggling with addictions and homelessness.

It was started by Sandra Angus-Vincent and clients of STS Pain Pharmacy, an addictions pharmacy operated by Angus-Vincent’s partner at 820 Cormorant St. The Daily Dose has a space at the back of the pharmacy.

“She was already offering a lot of the services, driving clients to appointments and the hospital,” Hagos said. “So when we envisioned becoming a society, we realized this was a service we provided already.”

That’s how Wheels for Recovery formed. Once a week, Angus-Vincent drives up to eight people to the Trew Beginnings Clinic in Nanaimo for same-day prescriptions. Hagos said they will make extra trips in an emergency.

It is one of several free services at the Daily Dose, which operates through donations. Others include housing referrals, work and volunteer assistance, storage for personal belongings and initiatives like a recent drive to make blankets from hundreds of mattress covers donated by the Fairmont Empress Hotel to be distributed to homeless people.

Trevor Smith has been a client at the pharmacy and the Daily Dose for more than a year. He said the unique atmosphere and range of services helped him become more stable than in any other methadone program.

“It’s the first place to treat me like an opportunity, a person to be validated, not just a number to make a profit,” Smith said. “When I first got here I was probably 50 pounds lighter … and a bit hopeless. Now I look forward to coming every day.”

Smith said the community atmosphere and services such as phones and computer access and Wheels for Recovery should be a model for other addictions pharmacies and programs.

Amanda Visona, another regular client, agreed and said there needs to be more treatment options for people struggling with drug addictions and housing.

She said Angus-Vincent helped her get in to see a doctor to get on a methadone program and now that she’s stable and not using drugs, she wants to get on with her life. “I want to get housing and get a job.”

Navigating the system of addictions and social services can be daunting for clients and families. On Thursday, the Centre for Addictions Research B.C. at the University of Victoria released the 43-page handbook, Patients Helping Patients Understand Opioid Substitution Treatment.

The book is the product of meetings between governments, health officials, addictions advocates and users. It was co-written by opioid substitution patients, said centre assistant director Dan Reist. “This provides patients with a human voice to the problem,” he said.

The handbook is available online and 5,000 print copies are on order to be distributed to clinics and pharmacies specializing in addictions treatments.

spetrescu@timescolonist.com