B.C. woman gets first implant in Western Canada to help treat opioid addiction

A Kamloops woman is the first in Western Canada to receive an implant which releases buprenorphine, a drug used to help treat opioid addiction. 

Dr. Mandy Manak with the Interior Chemical Dependency Office, implanted the drug into the patient’s arm last week.

“[The implant is] for patients who are in stable sustained recovery who are moving on to the next stage of their recovery program just to … loosen those apron strings a little bit,” said Manak.

To qualify for the treatment, patients have to already be on eight milligrams or less of Suboxone, an oral medication used in opioid replacement therapy.

“They should actually feel no different from day to day, whereas you know if you maybe delay one of your oral doses you might feel some of the effects wear off and actually people will go into opiate withdrawal, which is very unpleasant,” said the Kamloops doctor.

First injection in Western Canada

Her patient, who received the implant last Tuesday, is a full-time working mother who suffers from Crohn’s disease and had been put on narcotics after having multiple surgeries to treat her bowel, Manak told Daybreak Kamloops host Shelley Joyce.

Manak switched her patient to Suboxone to help get her off high doses of narcotics.

“She’s never looked back,” she said. 

New treatment

The implant medication, marketed as Probuphine,  is made up of four small non-biodegrabale rods that are inserted into the patient’s upper arm. The rods have 80 mg of buprenorphine, which is delivered as a steady state of medication in the body over a period of six months, Manak told Daybreak South’s Brady Strachan. 

Probuphine is being offered as an alternative to taking daily doses of Suboxone pills.

“It’s actually really important for people who are in recovery not to have that constant daily reminder, or be tied to a pill bottle or a pharmacy, because you know society still thinks of addiction as something that we have done wrong morally,” said Manak.

The implant also gives more flexibility for people who may have limited access to pharmacies.

“Say for example, you work up north and you’re doing well and you know you’re doing well in recovery. You should be able to go work … without those ties that we have when sometimes we’re in recovery and we’re on medication,” she said. 

Availability

The implant has been available in the United States since 2016, but was only approved by Health Canada in April of 2018.

“You know we’re always a little bit behind the FDA. Health Canada takes some time in reviewing the clinical trials and the studies that have been done,” said Manak.

“We’ve got a so-called opioid epidemic and I really don’t know why it takes so long to get medication, and there’s other medications that we still don’t have access to,” she said. 

The implant can cost around $1,495 for those without extended health coverage. 

If a patient’s extended health covers 80 per cent of the cost of the implant, there is a $300 co-pay from the manufacturer, said Manak. 

In a statement, B.C.’s Ministry of Health said The Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health recommended the implant for reimbursement under provincial drug plans last September.

“Currently, B.C.’s Drug Benefit Council is reviewing the drug, taking the Common Drug Review recommendation into account and will make a recommendation to PharmaCare on whether to list the drug.”

A Kamloops resident is the first person in Western Canada to receive a surgical implant to treat their opioid addiction. 6:04