Drugs to treat alcohol addiction now easier for Manitoba Pharmacare Program patients to get

Two drugs that help people dealing with alcohol addiction will now be easier for people covered by Manitoba Pharmacare Program drug plans to get prescriptions for, the provincial government announced April 4.

Effective immediately, naltrexone and acamprosate will be moved from a Part 3 exception drug status to a Part 1 “open benefit” listing on the Manitoba drug formulary, so doctors prescribing them to patients no longer need prior approval from the Manitoba Pharmacare Program before doing so. Patients who qualify for pharmacare or drug plans offered by the provincial Families department can immediately take them to a pharmacy and have the costs covered.

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“Alcohol is a leading cause of injury and death in Canada, including those resulting from impaired driving and from illnesses with known links to alcohol, such as certain types of cancer,” said Health Minister Cameron Friesen in a press release.  “Changes we have made to the drug formulary will enhance access to anti-craving medications by allowing Manitobans to have prescriptions filled at any pharmacy without waiting for authorization or approvals.”

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that naltrexone, which blocks the effects of opiates, can also help reduce people’s desire to drink or to continue drinking more if they fall off the wagon and have one drink, though the precise mechanism for this effect is unknown. The Addiction Center says acamprosate reduces the brain’s dependence on alcohol but should only be prescribed once the patient has stopped drinking and gone through initial detox.

“Improving access to medications such as naltrexone and acamprosate is an important step in improving health outcomes for Manitobans through expanded and more readily accessible treatment.  Importantly, steps such as this not only helps to decrease stigma associated with alcohol use disorder, but also helps to support patients in their recovery,” said Addictions Foundation of Manitoba (AFM) medical director Dr. Ginette Poulin, medical director, “We also expect to see a reduction in time needed to treat patients within our Rapid Access to Addictions Medicine (RAAM) clinics, where these two medications are used on a daily basis.”

Making such drugs more widely available le to treat addictions was recommended by the Virgo report on mental health and addictions. The province has already implemented several of its other recommendations by opening RAAM clinics in Thompson and elsewhere and by issuing a request for proposals for flexible-length treatment beds for patients withdrawing from methamphetamine use.

The province says it has also negotiated lower prices for 68 drugs already on the formulary through the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance, which conducts joint government negotiations for brand-name and generic drugs in Canada and helps governments use their combined negotiating power to get better value for publicly funded drug programs and patients.

“By reducing costs for drugs, we are increasing access to treatment options for patients, as well as consistent and lower costs for our program,” said Friesen. 

Manitoba’s Drug Benefits and Interchangeability Formulary lists therapeutically effective drugs that have been approved as eligible benefits under the pharmacare drug benefit program.

The Manitoba Pharmacare Program is based on family income and covers 100 per cent of eligible drug costs once an income-based deductible is reached, without consideration of medical condition or age.

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