A Vancouver clinic has suspended a harm reduction program which enabled 11 patients to take home medical-grade heroin, according to Providence Health Care.
Coral Watson, 38 who is a patient at Providence Crosstown Clinic said the news is devastating.
"I was nearly in tears," she said.
The "carries" program began in July and was a first in North America providing patients with diacetylmorphine syringes (medical-grade heroin) to-go. It gave patients like Watson more flexibility to work. She would go to the clinic daily before work and take a dose home to use in the evening.
The program was prompted, in part, by the pandemic, as some patients were forced to isolate themselves at home or hotels. Patients had to have some stability in their lives with housing or employment and demonstrate they could be part of the program responsibly, according to Providence Health Care.
When asked about it, the Ministry of Health, Providence Heath Care and the College of Pharmacists were not immediately able to say why for for how long the program is cancelled. Patients say they are concerned and left wondering if it will resume.
"If I wasn't in the program, I'd be dead," Watson said. "We deserve to know why this is happening cause it directly affects our lives."
Health authorities have yet to say why program discontinued
In an emailed statement, the Ministry of Health did not directly address the suspension directly but said Crosstown patients are able to continue receiving their doses at the clinic.
It also said it is working with the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, Providence Health Care and the B.C. College of Pharmacists to address and resolve the concerns.
"We recognize the value for patients of being able to bring their doses home, as deemed clinically appropriate by a prescriber."
The College of Pharmacists said in a statement there is an open investigation which is not related to carries or diacetylmorphine and is only focused on record keeping. It says it has not told Crosstown Clinic to stop delivering any service.
Providence Health Care could not say why the program is ending but says it is working closely with Crosstown patients to give them the care they need.
Meanwhile, patients involved in the program say they have been left in the dark.
Patients seek answers
Lisa James, 53, and a patient with the carries program since August, says it allowed her more flexibility taking care of her daughter who suffers from neurofibromatosis Type 2, a disorder that attacks the nervous system and causes tumours.
"This is gradually getting worse and worse with her disease and I was so relieved to just know that I had my whole days with her again."
James lives in Burnaby and says busing to the clinic for both of her doses means she has to leave her her daughter for nearly six hours a day instead of the few hours the carries program made possible.
"It's terrifying ... having to leave her all that time."
James has been off street drugs for three years and credits the clinic for saving her life but says not knowing why the program is cancelled is frustrating.
"I spent yesterday crying," she said.
Watson says visiting the clinic can be taxing. She says she now will have to spend up to two extra hours getting her doses during the week and on weekends.
"When you're working 40 hours a week, and you're going to a clinic that is not by your work, not by your home, it's quite a process," Watson said.
Advocate hopes authorities rethink decision
Sarah Blyth, an overdose prevention advocate who works at the Overdose Prevention Society in Vancouver, says the program ending is a step back in providing patients with a prescribed safe drug supply which helps users stay away from the harmful substances in street drugs.
"People were very grateful that they wouldn't have to stand in line," she said.
Blyth is also concerned the change in the carries program may cause people to resort to street drugs.
"I feel like this is going to take us back a bit and it's just disappointing."
Blyth said she hopes health authorities rethink their stance.
"We just need to help people get to work, do the things that they need to do ... nobody wants to stand in line two, three times a day."