Concerns raised about effectiveness of opioid substitution therapy in UBC study (Dr. Keith Ahamad, St. Paul's Hospital)

A study of drug use in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside concluded with 100 per cent of participants who used illicit opioids testing positive for fentanyl, raising concerns that higher opioid tolerance from the powerful synthetic drug could threaten the effectiveness of substitution treatment.

The five-month study, led by University of British Columbia psychiatry professor William Honer, involved 237 high-risk participants. Of those, about half used opioids, either prescribed (such as methadone and buprenorphine) or non-prescribed (such as illicit heroin). Severe mental-health issues also played a significant role: About half had psychosis and one-third had mood disorders, illnesses which increase the likelihood of using illicit drugs.

Keith Ahamad, an addictions physician at St. Paul's Hospital and the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, viewed the findings differently.

Andrea Woo reports

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