Health Canada will be providing nearly $800,000 to expand the pilot Safer Supply Program (SSP) in Peterborough to help those battling opioid addictions.
The $799,671 in funding will go to the 360 Degree Nurse Practitioner-led Clinic (360NPLC) to fund a 50-person program that sees nurse practitioners assess clients and prescribe pharmaceutical opioids to replace street-acquired fentanyl they rely on, says clinic SSP manager Nancy Henderson.
The program officially launched on Wednesday at the clinic at 360 George St. N. following a trial run last summer with 10 individuals, which received $200,000 in federal funding. The cost of medication for participants in the pilot program is covered by provincial drug plan benefits.
“This prescription includes an extended-release opioid that acts as a backbone to prevent withdrawal symptoms, especially overnight,” said Henderson. “Often Kadian or methadone are used for this purpose, and they are often taken through observed dosing at a pharmacy. In addition, immediate-release hydromorphone eight milligram tablets (D8s) are prescribed and are taken to reduce cravings throughout the day and replace the street-supply.
“These D8s are typically picked up daily at the pharmacy when the client receives their extended-release dose, and they use the tablets as discussed and agreed upon with their nurse practitioner.”
The goal of the harm reduction model is to create stability for clients while also offering access to primary health care and social services both internally and with partner organizations in the city and area.
A gradual enrolment process will begin this month with a team of health, social and harm reduction service providers. The SSP is also partnering with the Trent/Fleming School of Nursing with further research to examine enablers and barriers to opioid agonist therapy (OAT).
The SSP is engaging with a local external evaluator and a national third-party evaluator to research and review the outcomes of the program for participants, staff and the community, noted Henderson.
“Throughout the year the SSP will refine their local approach, create a local community of practice, and share knowledge about how this emerging practice might be offered in other small communities across the province and country,” stated Henderson.
Dr. Thomas Piggott, Peterborough Public Health’s medical officer of health, says expanding the safer supply program is a key move to address the growing opioid crisis.
There were 44 suspected fatal drug overdoses in 2021 in the health unit’s jurisdiction (Peterborough, Peterborough County, Hiawatha First Nation and Curve Lake First Nation).
There have been 14 suspected opioid-related deaths so far in 2022 as of late April.
“Expanding access to safer supply, a key harm reduction strategy in the context of a toxic drug supply, is an incredibly important opportunity to support people who use drugs in the Peterborough region and decrease the harms of the evolving crisis,” said Piggott. “I commend the Peterborough 360 Degree Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinic for their leadership in supporting this population.”
Peterborough Police Service’s acting chief Tim Farquharson said the service is “very excited” to see the expansion of the harm reduction program.
“Safer Supply is a critical tool for people who use drugs and Peterborough Police is very supportive of our partners at Peterborough 360 Degree Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinic who initiated this program within our community,” he said.
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