The federal government is providing more than $15 million over the next four years to create four safer drug supply projects for people at risk of overdoses in British Columbia.
The projects will provide pharmaceutical-grade medication as an alternative to the toxic illegal opioid supply currently in circulation, in an attempt to reduce illicit drug overdose deaths, according to a government statement. The safe supplies will be located in Vancouver and Victoria and will provide people with opioid use disorder with a safer, medical alternative from a licensed prescriber.
“Street supply opioids have been tainted by fentanyl and benzodiazepines, making them fatal. The number of preventable deaths have steadily increased and evidence shows that one of the surest ways to save lives is through replacement therapy with a safe supply,” Vancouver Centre MP Hedy Fry said in the statement.
“These four safer supply projects in Vancouver and Victoria using physician prescriptions is one way of preventing deaths and blocking illegal supply chains — one of many actions that need to be taken together.”
The new centres will also connect drug users to treatment options, which in some cases have become more difficult to access during the COVID-19 outbreak.
In the summer, B.C. saw record-breaking numbers of illicit drug deaths. Experts have tied the increases to risks associated with the pandemic, including a more toxic drug supply and more people using alone due to isolation requirements linked to the virus.
“The pandemic has magnified the effects of an already devastating overdose crisis across Canada,” B.C.’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson said.
“I’m pleased that Health Canada is working with us to help separate more people from the toxic drug supply.”
The projects are specifically to support those who have not been helped by traditional substance use services and treatments.
The funding will be split between the Safer Alternatives for Emergency Response Initiatives in Vancouver and Victoria and two other sites in Vancouver: the Safe Supply Program at the Providence Health Care Research Institute and the Overdose Response Expansion Project at the Kilala Lelum Health Centre.
“Providing pharmaceutical alternatives to the highly toxic and deadly drug supply in Victoria, a city that consistently ranks one of the highest in British Columbia for overdose deaths, is an important action,” AVI Health and Community Services executive director Katrina Jensen said in a statement.
“Our project will benefit from the skills and leadership of people with lived/living experience and the support of nurses, system navigators and physicians to save and improve the lives of people in our community we care about.”