Substance Use News: Life Expectancy, Harm Reduction and a Worrisome New Drug in Sight

The public health emergency declared in BC in April 2016 as a response to the climbing rate of overdose deaths has not come close to ending, and efforts to slow it down are still running behind despite tireless and compassionate work by people on the frontlines. Below are some highlights on public health impact, harm reduction efforts and ongoing concerns about pharmaceutical opioids.


Life Expectancy Shifts

At the recent BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS Fall HIV/ARV Update, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry spoke about the overdose epidemic. She noted a change in life expectancy in BC, which has decreased by 3 months, due in particular to overdose deaths in young men. She said it may not sound like much, but from a public health perspective, “This is huge.”

Life expectancy is already falling in the U.S.  An article about a new paper from the Canadian Medical Association Journal quotes one of the paper’s authors. He says that in the U.S., “Most of the new decline is due to an increase of “deaths of despair”: drug overdoses, suicide or alcohol abuse.” The author goes on to say that poverty and economy are playing a role in despair. The paper suggests that Canada’s life expectancy overall may also see a decline. But as Dr. Henry notes, we are already seeing that in BC.


Harm Reduction

It was announced this week that Saskatchewan is going to provide safe inhalation supplies (crack and crystal meth pipes) at harm reduction centres. Addiction specialist Dr. Peter Butt acknowledges it’s just one part of a complex problem, but it will help with harm reduction efforts. Saskatchewan continues to see HIV diagnosis rates rising.

Last month in Edmonton, the Stimulus Conference (Drugs, Policy and Practice in Canada) welcomed advocates from across the country. Harm reduction, drug policy and advocacy were among discussions. Read this blog from CATIE for impressions from attendees.

A two-part series from CTV also looks at drug policy, exploring whether Canada should follow Portugal’s lead and decriminalize drugs. Portugal made the move to treat drug use as a health issue in 2001, and its move is under discussion a lot these days. Part 1: Should Canada decriminalize all drugs? ‘Portugal model’ gaining traction Part 2: Harm Reduction Workers Celebrate Small Victories.


Chronicling Opioid Approval and Marketing

American Overdose is a new book coming out shortly. When high doses of painkillers led to widespread addiction, it was called one of the biggest mistakes in modern medicine. But this was no accident.” This is an exerpt by Chris McGreal. American journalist Barry Meier has spent seventeen years following the opioid epidemic and its impact on American lives. He recently spoke with Paul Costello, Stanford University School of Medicine’s chief communications officer, about his work and the role of drug companies in the overdose epidemic.

Last, but definitely not least, Canadian doctors are concerned about the makers of a new opioid pill  seeking approval for it in Canada. The drug, which is 5-10 times more potent than fentanyl, has recently been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. According to a New York Times article, “the chairman of the advisory committee that reviewed it asked the agency to reject it on grounds that it would likely be abused.”



Questions? Feedback? Get in touch! Janet Madsen, Capacity Building  and Knowledge Translation Coordinator, [email protected]






Image: Focus by Andrew, Flickr (Creative Commons)