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Physical distancing: B.C. drug users can now access medication more safely

The drugs must be prescribed by a trained medical professional. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

The B.C. government is moving as quickly as possible to distribute a safe supply of drugs to users under the COVID-19 pandemic, the minister in charge says.

Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy told CKNW’s Mornings with Simi that the province has been working to get the latest information to doctors and nurses.

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“It’s critical that prescribers first and foremost know about it — the ones who can prescribe safe prescription medication,” Darcy said.

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Tuesday marked four years since the B.C. government declared its other public health emergency — the opioid overdose crisis. More than 4,900 people in the province have died of illicit drug overdoses the emergency was announced on Apr. 14, 2016.

The coronavirus pandemic has elevated concerns about the health of drug users who may find it difficult to adhere to physical-distancing guidelines.

The federal government said it will allow provinces to distribute a safe supply of drugs to users in early March. The province released its implementation plan later that month.

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Those attempting to access the safe supply will need to meet a series of requirements developed by the BC Centre on Substance Use, including a having history of substance use and a high risk of withdrawal or overdose.

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Those who are hoping to access the program will need to contact a doctor, nurse practitioner, or rapid-access addiction clinic.

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A substantial number of users were already taking prescription medication, and the new rules will allow them to exercise proper physical-distancing measures more easily.

“Those folks were at great risk unless there was some change in the rules and the federal government has allowed those to take place,” Darcy said.

“It means, for instance, that pharmacists can extend prescriptions, they can issue verbal orders to refill prescriptions, they can have prescriptions delivered to somebody’s home, they can give longer prescriptions so people don’t have to come to the clinics as often.”

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