Combatting the toxic drug poisoning crisis in BC includes a continuum of strategies and solutions, from harm reduction tools like naloxone to treatment-based options like Opioid Agonist Treatment (OAT), and many in between. However, these interventions are not enough. The 2022 and 2023 BC Coroner’s Death Review Reports call for immediate action on lower-barrier and more equitable safer supply measures. The toxicity and volatility of the unregulated drug supply requires solutions that offer people who use drugs safer alternatives.
Prescribed safer supply is one available solution with no indication of contributing to overdoses. In fact, recent data from the first study to evaluate prescribing pharmaceutical alternatives at a population level demonstrated that providing pharmaceutical alternatives is associated with a reduction in deaths in the days immediately following. Furthermore, the protective effect increased with the number of days opioid medications were provided.
Risk Mitigation Guidance was stood up in early days of the pandemic when physical distancing and self-isolation were needed, to enable healthcare providers to prescribe select medications, including opioids and stimulants, to people at risk of overdose and withdrawal. While this was a critical pandemic intervention and led to BC’s existing prescriber model introduced in July 2021, the current policy is limited, has several systemic barriers, has not kept pace with the needs, and only reaches a small number of people. Realistically, these safer supply options should more closely resemble what people are accessing in the unregulated, unpredictable market.
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BC’s Provincial Health Officer (PHO) has released a review of BC’s prescribed safer supply program, demonstrating that evidence is primarily positive, and that the policy should be continued, with modifications and supportive changes described in key recommendations. This review, informed by those with lived and living experience, supports a safer supply model grounded in a public health approach that maximizes benefits and minimizes harms, respects the autonomy of people who use drugs, and addresses determinants of health, stigma, discrimination, racism, and health inequities.
To be effective in public health measures, we need to adapt current safer supply options to meet people’s needs with low-barrier options and adaptable solutions that support people no matter the substance, mode of consumption, or their access to a healthcare provider.
Continuing to work with government and agencies on the ground, Together We Act supports projects and initiatives seeking to tackle this complex issue to ensure safer supply options are made available to people in a more equitable, proactive, and compassionate manner. This includes the need for advocacy and education that supports evidence-based initiatives grounded in science, reliable data, and lived and living experience.
The toxic drug poisoning crisis will keep growing unless we take bolder, more innovative measures that focus on long-term prevention aimed at equitable, upstream solutions focused on the determinants of health that will help us today, and for the generations of tomorrow.
Donor support is key to saving lives immediately, while allowing for more long-term solutions to a deadly crisis that is claiming an average of seven lives every single day. Your support will go toward education, community partnerships, research opportunities, and initiatives targeting areas of need now and as they arise.
Thank you for helping to turn the tide. It will take a commitment to innovation, evidence, and compassion from people and communities across this province to support the solutions that are necessary to save lives.