Accessing Addiction Treatment in First Nations with the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program

Dr. Grady Gibson

April 3rd, 11:00 am to 12:30

Glen Room 209 – TELUS Convention Centre Calgary

About this session

Accessing Addiction Treatment in First Nations with the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program

Prevalent fentanyl use has contributed to an increase in fatal opioid overdoses in Alberta. The rate of fatal overdose in First Nations people is seven times higher than in Non-First Nations people. Indeed, First Nation reserves present unique challenges to treating opioid addiction including remoteness, pharmacy availability, and access to prescribers. Yet the main treatment for opioid addiction—opioid agonist therapy (OAT)—reduces mortality by over fifty percent2. To overcome these challenges and improve access to OAT, the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program uses telehealth and a low-barrier philosophy to start and continue people on treatment3. It a province-wide program specializing in assessment, treatment, and follow-up for outpatients with opioid use disorder.

In 2022, a First Nation in Alberta experienced 25 fatal overdoses in a three-month period and approached the VODP to form a partnership. We developed a model where staff assessed and treated patients in-person on reserve with remote access to VODP physicians. My presentation will explore this model, and how we use buprenorphine based products such as buprenorphine-XR and buprenorphine/naloxone in novel ways to improve access and retention to treatment.

  1. Alberta Opioid Response Surveillance Report: First Nations People in Alberta (2021)
  2. Santo, Thomas Jr et al. “Association of Opioid Agonist Treatment With All-Cause Mortality and Specific Causes of Death Among People With Opioid Dependence: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” JAMA psychiatry vol. 78,9 (2021): 979-993. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2021.0976
  3. Day N, Wass M, Smith, K. Virtual opioid agonist treatment: Alberta’s virtual opioid dependency program and outcomes. (2022)

Dr Grady Gibson MD CCFP ISAM is an addiction medicine physician and the medical director for the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program. Since completing his medical training Dr. Gibson has worked in addiction-related roles including inpatient treatment, acute care consultation, and has been involved in the development and expansion of the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program. Dr. Gibson quickly moved towards providing addiction treatment in his career because he observed the powerful and life changing improvement that a person can experience from these interventions.

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Alberta model