Crystal Head, of Vernon, was Interior Health’s first nurse prescriber. (Photo submitted)

Crystal Head, of Vernon, was Interior Health’s first nurse prescriber. (Photo submitted)

Vernon nurses among the first to tackle ‘toxic drug crisis’

IH nurse prescribers have written more than 450 prescriptions for Suboxone in past year

One year ago today, Crystal Head of Vernon was the first registered nurse in B.C. to write an opioid agonist treatment (OAT) prescription for opioid use disorder, as part of the provincial government’s overdose response.

Interior Health continues to expand its nurse prescriber team across B.C. in an effort to tackle “the toxic drug crisis from every angle.”

In the past year, the team has grown to include 16 nurses in 11 communities – 100 Mile House, Castlegar, Cranbrook, the Elk Valley, Nelson, Penticton, Lillooet, Revelstoke, Trail, Kelowna and Vernon.

The program was started in early 2021 to increase access to medication-assisted treatment and safer alternatives to the toxic illicit drug supply, according to IH.

Since then, IH nurse prescribers have written more than 450 prescriptions for Suboxone, an important OAT medication to support people with opioid use disorders.

“We are tackling the toxic drug crisis from every angle. British Columbia is the first province in Canada to let nurses prescribe medication-assisted treatment for opioid-use disorder,” Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, said. “On my visit to Vernon and Kelowna this week, I had the privilege of meeting some of the dedicated nurses on the prescriber team and hear first-hand about how their ability to prescribe medication assisted treatment is making an impact in their community. Expansion of nurse prescribing in the Interior is an important part of building the system of substance use care people need.”

Vernon RPN Kyle Boulton proudly wrote the first prescription for slow release oral morphine on Feb. 16, 2022 and continues to help clients access treatment in his community.

One client shared his gratitude for his nurse prescriber’s support in a text to her: “I just want to say thank you so much for helping me when I was in need. I would like to update you and tell you I’m totally sober, working full time and moving forward in life and I have to say thank you for being there and doing what you did. I don’t even take the pills anymore. I’ve been sober four months. Thank you again.”

Interior Health president and CEO, Susan Brown, said it’s important to have nurse prescriber services, particularly in rural areas “where it can be more difficult to see clients outside of clinic hours and respond to urgent client needs.”

Interior Health noted registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses were initially trained to prescribe Suboxone. IH and other health authorities then worked together with the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU), BC College of Nurses and Midwives and the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions to implement, monitor and expand the scope in treating opioid use disorder.

In November 2021, the BCCSU made provincial training available for nurses to prescribe the titration, bridging and continuation of slow-release oral morphine (SROM) and Methadone.

READ MORE: ‘Where else do we go for help?’: Okanagan mom struggles to aid son fighting opioid addiction

READ MORE: Trickle down effect: never-ending opioid crisis driving paramedics to exhaustion


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Vernon RPN Kyle Boulton proudly wrote the first prescription for SROM on Feb. 16, 2022. (Contributed)

Vernon RPN Kyle Boulton proudly wrote the first prescription for SROM on Feb. 16, 2022. (Contributed)