First barrier-free rapid access addiction clinic in downtown Toronto core opens

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WCH clinic closes the gaps in care for patients with alcohol or opiate addiction by offering expedited access to lifesaving treatment

By Magdalena Stec

Two people die from opiate overdoses each day in Ontario and the numbers are growing. Across Canada, we are now in the midst of an unprecedented opiate crisis.

To combat the growing problem, Women’s College Hospital (WCH) recently opened a Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) clinic where patients who are addicted to alcohol, opioids or other drugs are seen within one to three days, without a booked appointment and without a physician referral. The WCH clinic is the first barrier-free rapid access addiction clinic in the Toronto core that accepts all patients, including self-referrals and walk-ins, in addition to referrals from family doctors, hospitals and emergency departments, and the community.

“Our clinic is unique because we provide immediate access to lifesaving treatment by offering same-day counselling and addiction medication, and we give patients prescription to take home,” says Dr. Meldon Kahan, medical director of substance use service, WCH. “The opiate crisis we’re seeing now has reached epidemic proportions, and this treatment offers us a realistic and effective response to this crisis.”

The clinic is one of five new rapid-access clinics that will open in Toronto over the coming months under a provincial META:PHI (Mentoring Education and Clinical Tools for Addiction: Primary Care-Hospital Integration) initiative, also based at WCH, which over the last year developed seven rapid-access clinics across the province. The initial seven clinics prevented opiate overdoses, reduced emergency-room visits and inpatient stays for people with addictions, and saved the healthcare system approximately $200,000 for the first 150 patients in just their first 90 days of treatment.

“Typically, patients in crisis end up at emergency departments where they often don’t get the treatment they need. This clinic model has been shown to help save lives by engaging people with short- and long-term treatments as soon as they are ready and interested,” says Kate Hardy, META:PHI project manager, WCH.

Tracy Shillington is one of the patients who accessed WCH addiction treatment services. “I was able to walk in, see the doctor right away and get medication all on the same day,” says Shillington. “This has made a difference between life and death for me.”

Recent studies show that there were 734 opioid-related deaths in Ontario in 2015, exceeding the number of those killed in motor vehicle accidents. The rise of fentanyl – a powerful opioid that’s 50-100 times stronger than heroin –  has likely contributed to the increase in accidental deaths, as it is often added to other drugs to increase potency. And although experts now see opioid addiction across all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, according to reports nearly 60 per cent of accidental deaths occurred among youth and younger adults who were 15 to 44 years old.

The RAAM clinic is part of WCH Substance Use Service/Addiction Medicine and is open Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Magdalena Stec is Communications Lead, Women’s College Hospital.