New study highlights effectiveness of Halifax safe supply drug program

Click to play video: 'Study highlights Halifax safe supply program success' Study highlights Halifax safe supply program success
Results are in from the evaluation of a harm reduction program run out of COVID-19 hotel shelters in Halifax. Alexa MacLean reports – Apr 15, 2022

A new report highlights the success of a safe supply program launched by Halifax health care and outreach workers during the pandemic.

“Early on in 2020, as people experiencing homelessness were testing positive with COVID, and there were outbreaks in the shelter system, it was clear that individuals needed support if they were going to isolate safely,” Dr. Tommy Brothers said, a Halifax-based physician and researcher.

Brothers is part of the team that kickstarted the safe supply program out of COVID-19 isolation hotels in Halifax.

He’s also one of the authors behind the peer-reviewed evaluation of the program that was recently published.

“People needed their substance-use needs addressed if they were going to stay put, and stay safe,” he said.

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Brothers says vulnerable populations such as the homeless experienced a disproportionate impact from pandemic measures like isolation requirements, which was the impetus for Mobile Outreach Street Health (MOSH) starting the program.

“MOSH recognized this need and just started doing it. Supporting people to stay in the hotels, prescribing them the medications that they need, arranging for people who are dependent on alcohol to have safe dosages of alcohol delivered,” he said.

The study states there were zero overdoses among 77 residents isolating in hotels over 1,059 days.

Access to substances ranged from prescription opioids and stimulants to alcohol and tobacco through the support of shelter staff, outreach workers and health-care clinicians.

Read more: Halifax doctor strives to improve hospital care, supports for patients with addiction

“In my opinion, I think our province has been a little bit resistant to safe supply,” said Natasha Touesnard, the executive director of the Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs (CAPUD).

“So, I think that this provides evidence that safe supply is an effective way to help people have their life, liberty and security, and not be in withdrawal or not want to isolate.”

The evaluation discusses the increase in safe supply prescribing across Canada during the pandemic, and Brothers is hopeful the emerging model of care will continue.

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“This innovative and flexible approach to supporting people with medications and alcohol was done in response to community-identified need,” he said.

“Our evaluation showed that when responding to the needs of the community in these kind of out-of-the-box ways, it can be done safely and it can be effective.”

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