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New clinics to provide rapid access to help for drug use

Lakeridge Health Oshawa is one of two locations in the city that will now operate Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) clinics.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

For over a month, a pair of Oshawa clinics have been providing critical relief to the city’s drug users, and now, Lakeridge Health is looking to spread the word.

Starting on Jan. 30, Lakeridge opened the doors to two Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) clinics, which offer same-day, nearly immediate treatment for those suffering from withdrawal or looking to get assistance with their addictions.

The two clinics, one at Lakeridge Oshawa, the other located at the Pinewood Centre of Oshawa, one of the hospital’s addictions and mental health branches located at 300 Centre Street South, offer short-term addiction treatment and counselling on a walk-in basis.

It’s a fairly new concept in Ontario, says Paul McGary, the director of mental health and addictions for Lakeridge Health, but one that has been met with great success, because when it comes to treating addictions, eliminating all barriers is the best way to find results.

“What we have observed is that you need to provide services as accessible and low barrier as possible,” he says. “So that means getting in fast, and getting in now.”

The walk-in service model for the RAAM clinics sees them operate only a few short hours a week, with services offered Monday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Lakeridge Oshawa location and Tuesday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Pinewood Centre.

Despite the limited hours, the clinic has already seen and assisted 28 patients in the first month of operation, and the results have been encouraging.

“We actually had a couple people hug our physicians…because they actually felt such relief by the time they left,” McGary says. “Anybody who knows about this clinic can walk in and they’re going to be seen and they’re going to be helped that day and they’re going to feel relief from their withdrawal symptoms that day.”

To staff the two clinics, McGary has brought on the services of a new nurse practitioner, addiction counsellors and physicians, helped by $300,000 in funding from the Central East Local Health Integration Network (LHIN).

As well, McGary notes that the Oshawa clinics are one of the first in the province to involve the services of psychiatrists.

“The medical aspect of care is just one aspect, and there are people who also need rapid support, they need a counsellor to immediately be able to provide all that psycho-social assistance that the person doesn’t have. So that’s a critical piece,” he says.

Similar types of clinics have been used in Vancouver, in particular areas hit hard by the opioid crisis. McGary stresses that such a clinic is essential due mainly to the fact that the doors are open to everyone, with no referral required, and offers a wide array of services to provide relief.

“In likelihood, if they’re appropriate, they’re going to be started on one of a few medications that can help them not only with the withdrawal aspect, but can also help them with the cravings aspect, because that’s a really big piece of the struggle for people,” McGary says. “There is no wait for anybody. You’re going to walk in, you’re going to be seen, the most you’re going to wait is about an hour. Comparing that to traditional clinics, it’s life changing.”

The funding from the LHIN and support from the provincial government is part of a push that began in August 2017 to battle the ongoing opioid crisis.

Oshawa is one of more than 30 communities across Ontario that will be opening similar RAAM clinics, which are also being used as a distribution point for naloxone kits, a life-saving drug in the event of an overdose.

“The new RAAM clinic here in Durham will help us to provide better access to care for those living with addictions, so that we can stop the tragic and avoidable deaths that result from the opioid crisis,” states Durham MPP Granville Anderson. “In combination with the significant investments our government is making to combat this issue, (this) announcement will help to save lives.”