Context: Canada is experiencing an opioid crisis. In rural areas, limited access to specialty addictions services, public transportation, and many of the social determinants of health create a unique set of challenges for people who use substances.
Issue: The Rural Outpatient Opioid Treatment (ROOT) program was created to bring some of the structure of an inpatient treatment program into a rural primary care setting in Ontario, Canada. The program uses a harm reduction approach to provide group recovery work, primary care, peer support, smoking cessation, opioid agonist therapy, screening and treatment for hepatitis C and HIV, and longitudinal follow up. Sixteen participants have enrolled in three rounds of the ROOT program to date.
Lessons Learned: A program evaluation shows that opioid use decreased while use of other substances remained high, in particular methamphetamine use which is increasing more broadly in the local area. Participants described feeling cared for and appreciated the “seamless” nature of the multidisciplinary program, the peer support provided, and their new and expanded social networks. The rural context created both benefits and challenges for their substance use, recovery, and for community programming. In conclusion, the evaluation of this pilot program demonstrates that it is possible to successfully integrate an outpatient substance use treatment program into rural primary care.