08/07/2014 03:02 EDT | Updated 10/07/2014 05:59 EDT

B.C. Methadone Treatment For Drug Addiction Saves Lives, Money: Report

HOANG DINH NAM via Getty Images
TO GO WITH STORY BY AUDE GENET In a picture taken on August 12, 2010 a drug addict (L) receives his daily dose of methadone at the Drug Treatment by Methadone Center in the northern coastal city of Hai Phong. The communist country has been a long time sceptic of using methadone to deal with heroin addiction, but due to the scale of the problem and better understanding of the treatments Vietnam is now following the example of other countries and stepping up methadone therapies across the country. Official sources say there are 150,000 drug addicts nation wide, 80 per cent of which inject heroin. AFP PHOTO/HOANG DINH Nam (Photo credit should read HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)

VICTORIA - The provincial methadone program for treating addictions to heroin, morphine and oxycodone saves both lives and money, says a new report from British Columbia's medical health officer.

Dr. Perry Kendall's report released Thursday states the mortality rate for people in opioid substitution treatment is about half of what it is for those using street heroin.

The rate of death for those using methadone or Suboxone has fallen to 1.1 per 100 person years compared with 2.09 per 100 person years for those getting their opioids from the street, the report said.

"Greater access to opioid substitution treatment, along with other harm reduction initiatives, has helped contribute to the lower incidence of HIV infection among people who inject drugs," Kendall's report concluded.

The report also said the annual per-patient costs for treatment programs in B.C. is about $4,200 compared with as much as $45,000 in Ontario and the United States for those with untreated opioid addictions.

The B.C. costs include physician, pharmacy and drug costs, while the costs from Ontario and the United States include estimated health care, law enforcement and other social costs.

"I am encouraged by the findings in this report that indicate that B.C.'s opioid substitution treatment system is saving patients' lives and saving the health-care system and society money," said Health Minister Terry Lake in a news release.

The provincial treatment program now extends beyond Vancouver with 3,000 pharmacists participating and almost 350 physicians prescribing methadone or Suboxone in the reporting year.

The report says 15,754 B.C. residents were involved in the opioid substitution treatment program between 2012 and 2013, a 66 per cent increase from 2007 and 2008.

The Fraser Health Authority was treating the most patients at more than 6,700.

The B.C. substitution treatment system is supported by the Ministry of Health, Pharmacare, the college of Physicians and surgeons of B.C. and the College of Pharmacists of B.C.