Nurse practitioner (NP) Sherry Katz has seen the effects of the toxic drug crisis firsthand, as she prescribes opioid agonist treatment (OAT) to vulnerable populations dealing with addiction.
Sherry, who works at Anne Vogel Clinic in Richmond, says she jumped at the opportunity to prescribe OAT when it first became available for NPs in B.C. in 2018.
“This work is truly my passion," says Sherry. “So as soon as NPs were granted prescription authorization, I did the training right away and began prescribing OAT."
She has spent her entire career working with vulnerable populations, both as a nurse and a NP, and says OAT often leads to a positive shift in behaviour, and most importantly, saves lives.
“These treatments can be life altering, and not only in terms of overdose prevention and harm reduction, but once people stabilize, they become more engaged in their health care overall," says Sherry.
The COVID-19 pandemic compounded the already grim situation for many struggling with addiction; however as Sherry points out, there were also some unintended benefits.
“Expanded telehealth options and mobile pharmacies have had a huge positive impact on care delivery, especially for clients who live in more rural areas and aren't able to travel or visit in person," says Sherry.
She feels fortunate to be among the most experienced NPs providing OAT at VCH, as she is able to assist and mentor those who are newer to it, like Jennifer Crockett.
Jennifer works at HealthConnection Clinic in North Vancouver, and is part of a team providing care for residents with complex mental health and addictions and/or socioeconomic needs. She began prescribing OAT around eight months ago, and says it has been a whirlwind experience to say the least.
“It's been a steep learning curve, that's for sure," says Jennifer. “It's very fast moving and we're constantly pivoting in reaction to the street supply of opioids, which is quickly becoming increasingly more toxic."
She also says it has been a hugely positive and fulfilling experience, and she relishes the opportunity to help people manage their addiction issues, and improve their overall health in doing so.
“People who are street entrenched and suffer from addiction can sometimes feel cast aside by the health care system," says Jennifer. “So when we see people feeling more connected after receiving OAT and begin taking a more holistic approach to their health care as a result – that's really rewarding."
Jennifer feels blessed that her clinic is able to serve as a sanctuary of sorts for those seeking support with complex substance use and other issues. “It's so critical that people dealing with addiction have access to a safe space like this, where they can walk in without feeling judged and get the care they need."