Shayla Huber: a second chance for people with substance use disorder

Updated on May 13, 2024 (Originally posted on May 7, 2024) The Tablet
Shayla Huber

Shayla Huber is a pharmacist and owner of Harmony Scripts Pharmacy in Courtenay. Her pharmacy is a specialized location that isn’t open to the general public as a retail store, but rather focuses on providing substance use disorder treatment in collaboration with physicians, nurses and outreach workers. 

Tell us about your background as a pharmacist.

I graduated from the University of Alberta in 2007 and spent a few years as a relief pharmacist before my first staff position. I must have worked in 50 to 60 different pharmacies throughout my career. One of my first staff positions was at a pharmacy in Campbell River, at a location dedicated to the methadone maintenance program. I found the work rewarding, and that was my introduction to working with substance use disorders. 
Due to family I had to move a couple times since 2010, but by 2018 I found a position at wonderful pharmacy in Courtenay. I was pretty content there until the COVID-19 shutdowns of 2020. 

Out of nowhere we started seeing prescriptions for safer supply, or prescribed pharmaceutical alternatives. At that time, safer-alternatives were still very new, and I felt that a regular community pharmacy wasn’t the ideal place to serve safer supply patients. I felt I needed to be working in a dedicated pharmacy that specialized in substance use disorders, so I worked collaboratively with other health providers to create such a space. Somebody had to do it, and it felt that no one else was going to make it happen. 

So I did.

What is different about Harmony Scripts Pharmacy?

I have no front store, I don’t even have a cash register — instead I use third party billing. My pharmacy is on the lower floor of the Comox Valley Addictions Clinic, which is operated by Dr. Eva Hemmerich. Eva is the medical director of the Regulated Access to Drugs (RAD) program operated by AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI) Health & Community Services Society, and around here she’s known as the “Queen of OAT”.  She is who everyone goes to for advice and she is a leader here.

My goal was to help get my patients stable to a point where they can get treatment when they are ready. I opened my pharmacy at the tail end of the pandemic, so instead of waiting for people to come into my tiny space, I decided to deliver 90 per cent of the work that came in. Even now, two years later, I only have two or three walk-in people.  

Today, we mostly do daily dispensing, but we also do weekly blister packs, inhalers, and such. A typical day starts at 6:30 a.m. Between 6:30 and 8:30 one of my peer workers, Callum Roth or Natasha Clark, will shuttle patients to the pharmacy from the shelter up the street, a few at a time. Meanwhile, I’ll be preparing deliveries for some of my patients who live in low-income residences. In addition to all of that, I handle all of the medications for AVI’s RAD program, where some of their patients are on Fentora, a fentanyl buccal tablet witnessed daily; and/or fentanyl patches which are changed Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. AVI is Comox Valley’s place to go for harm reduction services, I developed a relationship with them within just a couple months after opening. Together, we have created protocols for how to safely and responsibly manage the fentanyl program in our area. 

Shayla huber 2

L-R: Registered nurse Sandra Hervieux, pharmacist June Feucht, Shayla Huber and Dr. Eva Hemmerich pose for a photo outside Harmony Scripts. The four work together in the field of addictions treatment in the Comox Valley area.

Where does your passion for the field of addictions treatment come from?

I found my purpose in this profession. We are all addicted to something, just because one hasn’t lost their family, their job or their home, doesn’t mean they are addiction-free. Everyone is one day, one tragedy or one error in judgement away from being an addict.

Half of the people I serve suffered from injuries and can never work again. These patients are engineers, business owners, mothers, fathers, regular folks who legitimately were prescribed opioids. Unfortunately, they faced a combination of factors and became addicted. They need our help.

Some people outside of health care might make accusations that safe supply is a waste of money. But if we are completely honest, many of our patients are here because we health professionals in the past were led to believe that opioids were not addictive. If someone has never been chemically addicted to a substance that changes the brain, they cannot know the torment that an opioid addict goes through. At Harmony Scripts, we have a dedicated network: we are in constant contact with the RAD and outreach nurses, Dr. Hemmerich and several outreach doctors, and peer workers. Our job in this opioid crisis is to keep our patients alive and to encourage them to get treatment. 

Safer-alternatives, in my opinion, are never to be a never-ending supply for people. This is the best we have, and it is helping give many people stability and relief from pain. 

Shayla Huber

Peer worker Callum Roth with Shayla Huber and Jenny the dog.

What does success look like in this field?

Last quarter, in Comox Valley we went down in our deaths from drug poisoning, and in much of B.C. that wasn’t the case. It’s a good feeling. The staff at the supportive housing residence have told me that their residents have stopped fighting as often, or behaving negatively, ever since I started delivering there daily. Some of the patients I have been seeing, they’re fully recovered now. They went into rehabilitation and I don’t see them anymore, though I do get the occasional call updating me on their life. I cannot describe that feeling but I tear up thinking about it. 

I like to tell new patients, if you can get to the point where you are on a once-a-month injection of Sublocade, eventually you’ll never have to see my mug again. That’s very satisfying to see happen. A loss of business like that is my idea of success. 


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