In March 2017, the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program (VODP) was born as an expansion of the former Rural Opioid Dependency Program.

Now, clients from any community in  Alberta can use VODP and access to care is available seven days a week,” notess Lisa Sutherland of Alberta Health Services (AHS) Communications.

Clients involved in VODP, Sutherland says, take regular medication to replace opioids under the guidance of a physician and the replacement medication treats withdrawal symptoms, reduces cravings, and allows people to continue to work safely and lead normal lives. 

Patients also participate in regular videoconferencing visits with a doctor and other members of the multidisciplinary team.  

“Clients can also access counselling visits at local AHS addiction and mental health sites and other community supports as needed,” Sutherland says. “If a person does not have medication insurance, program staff will help them navigate options that are available to ensure they receive the treatment they require.”

Sutherland says that clients access the program by self-referral or referral from another program or health professional. Replacement medication therapy can often be initiated the same day a client contacts the program. All visits and counselling are covered by Alberta Health, Sutherland says, and costs for medication are covered by medication insurance plans. 

“The VODP is also designed to improve transitions in care,” Sutherland explains. “If a client starts treatment in a hospital, detox, or corrections setting, they can access the program to get help while they transition to other care providers without delay (family doctor, local addiction program, etc.) as seamlessly as possible.”

Sutherland emphasizes that detox without opioid replacement medication leads to a very high rate of relapse, and higher overdose and overdose death rates. Many people, Sutherland adds, will taper and transition off of the medications over a period of time and medical evidence supports ongoing treatment for at least one year.

“Alberta Health Services is working to provide services in unique ways to help eliminate barriers to care,” Sutherland says.

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