B.C. nurses to begin prescribing addiction treatment medications — a Canadian first

Sheila Malcolmson, minister of mental health and addictions. || B.C. government photo
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B.C. nurses will become the first in Canada to prescribe medication for treatment of opioid use disorder this month.

Thirty registered nurses (RNs) and registered psychiatric nurses (RPNs) will soon be able to prescribe buprenorphine/naloxone (commonly known as Suboxone), an opioid agonist treatment (OAT) to prevent withdrawal and reduce cravings. The group includes nurses from every health region in the province, according to the provincial government. 

“Expanding access to addiction treatment medications is essential to getting a handle on this crisis. We are building our capacity to do this by balancing urgent action with careful implementation to ensure patient and practitioner safety every step of the way,” said Sheila Malcolmson, minister of mental health and addictions.

The change follows a public health order by Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, to authorize RNs and RPNs to prescribe some controlled drugs and substances. They join family physicians, psychiatrists and nurse practitioners who are already prescribing OAT medications, such as Suboxone.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has put people who use drugs at much higher risk for overdose. This crisis isn’t unique to our province – it’s a national issue – but B.C. is breaking ground when it comes to our response,” said Henry.

Henry’s order, made last September, requires RNs and RPNs complete B.C. Centre on Substance Use training, including in-person mentoring with experienced prescribers.

The province said it is working to expand access to safer pharmaceutical alternatives to toxic street drugs. In time, RNs and RPNs may advance their prescribing practice to include a wider array of pharmaceutical options, reads a media release from the province.

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