SASKATOON -- The Saskatchewan government plans on changing its methadone formula for patients being treated for opioid addiction — something frontline workers warn could cause people to resort back to taking illicit drugs.

Rob McCarroll says he became addicted to opioids in his late teens while he was treated for two separate brain tumours.

He’s been working to overcome it through methadone treatment for the past three decades.

In 2014, while McCarroll was living in Vernon, B.C., the province changed its methadone formula, which he says pushed him back to street drugs as he began feeling withdrawal symptoms.

“It’s horrible to have to go back to sticking needles in your arm, getting up in the morning and the first thing you do is having to go out searching for drugs,” he told CTV News

Drug users and experts in B.C. say the methadone formula switch in 2014 contributed to the province’s opioid crisis.

McCarroll left B.C. to move to Saskatchewan in 2017 to continue his methadone treatment.

“I didn’t want to become a statistic,” he said.

However, Saskatchewan plans on making a similar change to its formula.

The Ministry of Health said Methadose, a pre-mixed formulation, and Metadol-D will eventually replace the compounded methadone currently available at pharmacies.

McCarroll is asking the province to reconsider.

“We’re going to have more bodies piling up because this stuff, it doesn’t do what they promise it will, it doesn’t take away the cravings,” he said.

McCarroll said on methadone he would be able to take one dose in the morning and wouldn’t need to take a second dose until the next night, whereas, on Methadose, he would start getting antsy after 14 hours.

In 2020-2021, 3,534 people received methadone for opioid agonist therapy, according to the Ministry of Health.

It said the new formulations are safer.

TIMING 'COULDN'T BE WORSE'

However, Prairie Harm Reduction Executive Director Jason Mercredi said it will put extra pressure on agencies like his.

“If their cravings are going up and they’re going to relapse, that’ll likely mean they’re going to turn back to street drugs and that could mean a death sentence at this point in time,” he said.

Mercredi also questions the timing of the formula change.

“I think the timing couldn’t be worse to be honest. We’re still in the middle of COVID-19, but then on top of that, the overdose crisis is ramping up month over month,” he said, adding that local street drugs are becoming more contaminated and deadly.

Peter Butt, a consultant in addiction medicine at the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), said while having a consistent formula makes sense from a quality assurance and cost perspective, people who are already on the methadone treatment should be given the option to stay on it.

“It can destabilize people when the medication that frankly their life has become reliant upon to avoid relapse and all the problems that go with that that they’ve experienced in the past, they do not want to go back there,” Butt said.

“This leads to anxiety when there’s a change and really the whole ritual of receiving the medication and being on it and having the same bottle, the same type of medication on a consistent basis.”

Butt said the transition needs to be carefully thought out as Methadose and Metadol-D can have different effects on people.

He said people who depend on these treatments also need to be consulted.

“We want to feel comfortable and medicated properly, and I don’t think that’s too much to ask,” McCarroll said.

METHADOSE USED ACROSS CANADA

The Ministry of Health said compounded methadone will be available to patients who are severely allergic to Methadose or Metadol-D.

It said all Canadian provinces have introduced Methadose and that it will be working with other jurisdictions to learn from their experiences.

“As part of the transition, patient and prescriber education is being developed to provide some guidance on how to address these potential concerns. We will monitor the transition to identify and respond to any issues,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement to CTV News.