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Expanding access to opioid treatment

Alberta is expanding the telehealth option to treat opioid use disorder and temporarily covering the costs of opioid treatment medications.

An additional $4 million over four years will help expand access to the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program (VODP). The Alberta Health Services program uses telehealth technology to allow Albertans to access treatment for opioid use disorder. In addition to medical support, the VODP provides clients with addiction counselling and other supports including transitional services.

The Opioid Agonist Therapy (OAT) Gap Coverage program will cover the costs of medications to treat opioid use disorder for Albertans who are waiting to receive coverage through a supplementary health benefit plan. The program will cover costs for up to 120 days, during which an Albertan can apply for and receive supplementary health benefits.

“We’re creating pathways for recovery across the continuum of care for Albertans. The Virtual Opioid Dependency and OAT Gap Coverage programs are important tools to help people across the province get the treatment they need to recover and live healthy, successful lives.” Jason Luan, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions

The VODP has already proven effective at helping Albertans dealing with addiction. About 40 per cent of VODP clients over the past year reported an opioid overdose upon entering the program. After a year in the program, fewer than 10 per cent of clients reported an overdose. Albertans can be referred to the VODP by any community health-care provider or even refer themselves to the program. Once enrolled, patients have regular video conferencing visits with a doctor and other health professionals. Video conferencing visits can be arranged in any community in Alberta.

“Our clients come from many backgrounds and have, by and large, experienced a lot of hardship.  Despite this, clients and their families tell us that they are moving forward in recovery to lives they never thought they could have. It is critical that we meet people where they are at and remove obstacles to getting better. This program delivers high-quality addiction treatment to people when they need it, no matter where in Alberta they live or work. Our team collaborates with local supports, including those in community pharmacies, enabling people to access care as close to home as possible.“ Dr. Nathaniel Day, medical director, Addiction and Mental Health, VODP

VODP quick facts

  • The VODP is available province wide and has served more than 2,000 clients to date, including almost 1,300 in the past year.

  • The program helps ensure smooth transitions for patients who are moving from one care setting to another (e.g., from hospital-based care to community-based care).

  • The VODP was recently recognized by the Health Quality Council of Alberta for improving patients’ overall experience in accessing and receiving health-care services.

  • The additional funding will also assist with increasing existing programming and service capacity.

  • To learn more about the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program or refer yourself for treatment, call 1-844-383-7688.

The OAT Gap Coverage program covers all payments for buprenorphine/naloxone and methadone. These medications are used to treat opioid use disorder. They must be taken every day and can cost more than $10,000 per year for those without supplementary health benefits.

OAT Gap Coverage Program quick facts

  • The program launched on April 1. Since then, more than 1,100 Albertans have been enrolled.

  • Albertans must enrol in a supplementary health benefits plan to continue to receive coverage for OAT medications after the 120-day period covered by the program.

  • The OAT Gap Coverage Program is funded through the Government of Canada’s Emergency Treatment Fund. Program funding this year is estimated to be about $2 million.

Provincial Press Release June 22, 2020 @ 1:10 PM


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