Changes coming for a ‘life-saving’ drug

Dr. Jane Clelland has seen a who’s who of Campbell River’s methadone patients

There’s been plenty of recent media attention given to the new methadone formula change on Feb. 1, and that makes some people wonder “who’s using this stuff?”

For more than 20 years, Dr. Jane Clelland has seen a who’s who of Campbell River’s methadone patients from her small Columbia Coast Clinic on Cedar Street.

“I have patients who work as loggers, housewives and have university degrees,” she points out during a phone interview.

Some started using street-bought opiate drugs, such as heroin, while others became addicted to prescription pain medication. Some of these patients include former Canadian soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress.

“It’s not just addicts, we get a lot of referrals for pain,” says Judy First, the clinic’s manager. “Methadone is a stable painkiller that can last up to 24 hours…it’s my medicine too.”

First started using street drugs several decades ago when she lived in Manitoba. She cleaned up when she came to Campbell River, but then fell back into old habits. However, since 1997 she hasn’t touched street drugs. Instead, her methadone medicine has allowed her to flourish in a good job, to help others improve their lives, and each winter she enjoys a vacation under the hot Mexican sun.

“I haven’t thought about (street) drugs for years and I haven’t thought of methadone as a drug for many, many years,” she says, during an interview at the clinic office. “Next month I’m turning 69 and, for me, methadone will probably be a lifelong thing…it’s saved my life and it’s saved a lot of people in this city.”

Still, methadone is a powerful painkiller that can be fatal if taken improperly and without professional guidance. And now, on Feb. 1, methadone patients will instead receive methadose which is 10 times the strength of the current formula.

“This is important, not only for our patients, but for those who might purchase illicit methadone on the street,” warns Dr. Clelland.

Methadone prescriptions are filled at local pharmacies.

High-risk patients typically consume their dose under the watchful eye of the pharmacist while most others are given several days’ supply.

“The first dose will be witnessed in front of the pharmacist and then they’ll come in twice a week. It will depend in the individual circumstance,” says pharmacist Victor Choo, local owner of Peoples Drug Mart.

Choo says B.C. is making the change to methadose to standardize the formula across the country.

With methadone, each pharmacist had to manually compound the formula which could result in subtle differences from different pharmacies.Now, each store will have a $500 machine that exactly mixes the methadose.

“This is pretty well standard across Canada now,” says Choo.


Fast facts:


  • The new methadose formula is distinguishable from the current solution by its red colour, cherry flavour, and the fact that it does not need refrigeration.
  • Patients will receive the same dose of methadone, but the amount of liquid will be one-tenth as much as what they receive with the current formula.
  • Physicians and pharmacists will be informing their patients about this change so that they may safely adapt to the new formula.
  • Methadose is a strong opioid and can be fatal. Anyone suspecting accidental ingestion, especially by a child, should immediately call 911.