Drug users in B.C. face uncertainty amid shortage of medication for opioid addiction
British Columbia has been dealing with a shortage of methadone and for those who rely on the medication to treat opioid addiction, it's been almost a month of uncertainty, advocates say.
The province says it became aware of the shortage in the first week of March after the manufacturer of Metadol-D, a methadone formulation covered by PharmaCare, reported a shortfall due to shipping delays.
The Ministry of Health followed protocols in place for drug shortages, including additional PharmaCare funding for alternatives, the province says.
"All current methadone liquid formulations are considered equally effective and therapeutically interchangeable," the province said.
Since 2014, Garth Mullins of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users and the B.C. Association of People on Opioid Maintenance has been using Metadol-D.
"I am alive right now because I've been able to have access to methadone, and if that access is imperilled, it's just going to turn my life upside down," Mullins said.
Mullins says he has heard from users who report they have been offered another formulation known as Methadose.
Back in 2019, Metadol-D was offered as an alternative to those who found Methadose ineffective, Mullin says, and having to go back to Methadose amid a shortage has left some users feeling "dope sick."
"You start to get the sweats, anxiety, kicky legs, then you're throwing up, then you're just in a really bad state," he said.
"In that situation, most of us end up topping up off of the street supply and right now that's lethal."
The government says as of last week, patients have access to other PharmaCare-funded products beyond Methadose without having to request them through a special process.
The province also said the methadone shortage was resolved on March 13, but "a ripple effect on the supply chain might be felt for a couple of weeks as the availability stabilizes at the wholesaler level."
It added that supply levels should return to normal shortly.
Mullins says the government's response has been inadequate, given it's been nearly seven years since the province deemed the drug crisis a public health emergency.
More than 11,000 British Columbians have died due to toxic illicit drugs since a public health emergency was declared over the fatalities in April 2016, making it the leading cause of unnatural deaths in the province.
"We hear government just kind of shrugging their shoulders and sort of saying, 'Oh, it's the supply chain. What can we do?' And that's not good enough when it's an emergency. They should make sure that there is a good stockpile of prescription opioids and that we don't see shortages."