Substance Use News August 2020

Substance Use News provides a snapshot of news and resources for those working to support folks who use substances. We share pieces on the social, medical and political responses to the opioid crisis, from advocacy to welcome change. With the added layer of the coronoavirus/COVID-19 public health constraints, those working in harm reduction have heightened concerns about how to provide the safest, most dignified support to people who use drugs. For COVID-19 specific resources, including harm reduction resources, please visit our COVID-19 resources page.  See our Drug Use and Overdose Response page for resources on overdose services, team resilience, governmental reports, policy recommendations, and more.


Toxic drug supply continues to contribute to loss of lives in BC
The BC Coroners Service has published updated reports on illicit drug toxicity deaths and fentanyl-detected drug deaths to the end of July 2020, with 175 illicit drug toxicity deaths reported in July. This is the third consecutive month with more than 170 suspected illicit drug deaths reported to the BC Coroners Service. From BC Gov News


After Another 175 Overdose Deaths in July, Advocates Want Action
Despite much greater number of deaths, the stigmatization of drug use and drug users has made it difficult to respond to the overdose crisis with the same urgency shown in dealing with the pandemic, said Dr. Perry Kendall, the co-interim executive director at the BC Centre on Substance Use. From The Tyee


International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31 – Time to Remember. Time to Act
International Overdose Awareness Day has been running for almost 20 years and is a global event held on 31st August, aiming to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have died or had a permanent injury as a result of drug overdose. There are 6 key messages that we have been promoting concerning safe supply and decriminalization – actions that we believe will prevent overdoses and save lives. From PAN


Northern BC now has the province’s highest overdose death rate per capita
Prince George is the only city in Northern Health with an overdose prevention site, though the authority says it is examining other communities where it could establish such services, including Fort St. John.


Discussion on decriminalizing drugs should be considered in wake of opioid deaths: Dr. Teresa Tam
Canada’s chief health officer suggested decriminalizing hard drugs should be discussed to address a spike in opioid overdose deaths, while Health Minister Patty Hajdu insisted decriminalization was not a “silver bullet” solution. From Global News


BC Advocates Blast BC’s Overdose Crisis Response and Quit Consultations
Four leading experts and advocates for drug users are quitting provincial overdose crisis response committees over what they say is willful government inaction in the face of an increasingly deadly poisoned drug crisis. “I’m not going to stand at an open hole digging a grave with John Horgan,” said activist and journalist Garth Mullins. From The Tyee


Despite Fentanyl’s Ubiquity, Test Strips Can Still Empower Drug Users
As the presence of illicit fentanyl has reached near-ubiquity in many North American heroin supplies, some harm reductionists have questioned the utility of drug checking as an overdose prevention strategy.Even if drug users are assuming fentanyl is cut into their bags, some still find testing strips to be a source of empowerment and agency, according to a new study. From Filter


Federal prosecutors told to avoid drug possession charges when possible in new directive
Federal lawyers are being asked to avoid prosecuting simple drug possession cases unless major public safety concerns are at play. Director of Public Prosecutions Kathleen Roussel is now asking her team of lawyers to focus on seeking charges only in “the most serious cases” and to otherwise ask for alternative measures, such as restorative justice and Indigenous approaches to divert simple possession cases away from the criminal justice system. From CBC


Canadian Drug Users Need Us Doctors to Step Up With Safe Supply
As overdose deaths skyrocket, associated with even higher concentrations of illicitly-produced fentanyl in the street drug supply, it’s time for physicians and nurse practitioners across Canada to step up and start prescribing a replacement “safe supply” of pharmaceutical-grade drugs. We can use the tools we already have, within models that meet our patients’ needs, while we advocate for decriminalization of drugs and access to a legal, regulated, non-toxic supply. From Filter


A domestic safe supply of injectable heroin would save lives
Fair Price Pharma is a new company planning to produce injectable heroin (diacetylmorphine or DAM) as a key part in addressing the ongoing overdoses and deaths from tainted drug supplies. It would mean domestic production of a much-needed replacement for the illicit drug supply can finally become a reality in Canada. Leading Fair Price Pharma is Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.’s first medical health officer, and Dr. Martin Schechter, the lead researcher behind NAOMI, Canada’s heroin-assisted treatment clinical trial. From The Tyee


Government-sanctioned safe supply not enough to get some off fentanyl-laced street drugs
Drug testers in BC seeing higher concentration of fentanyl as well as more tranquilizers in illicit drugs. One person, who works with the Society of Living Illicit Drug Users (SOLID), equates giving hydromorphone to a serious addict with giving Tylenol to someone who has just had major surgery: It is nowhere near strong enough. From the CBC


Overdose response accelerates with treatment, prevention supports
In a statement on Tuesday August 4, 2020, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy announced more people in B.C. will have access to life-saving overdose prevention, treatment and supports. These supports are part of the $10.5 million in funding that will accelerate the response to an increasingly toxic illicit drug supply due to COVID-19. From Gov BC News


Research: Youth often use cannabis as harm reduction, may help stop injection drug use
New research is shedding light on how cannabis use among some young people may be an important way to reduce the harms of other substance use. Two newly published studies from researchers with the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) and the University of British Columbia (UBC) examined cannabis use behaviours among young people and other people who use drugs in downtown Vancouver. From the BC Centre on Substance Use


Social network support and harm reduction activities in a peer researcher-led pilot study, British Columbia, Canada
People who smoke drugs are at high risk of both infectious disease and overdose. Harm reduction activities organized by their peers in the community can reduce risk by providing education, safer smoking supplies, and facilitate access to other services. Peers also provide a network of people who provide social support to PWSD which may reinforce harm reducing behaviors. We evaluated the numbers of supportive network members and the relationships between received support and participants’ harm-reducing activities. From the Harm Reduction Journal


New provincial training program for BC health care providers aims to improve care for those with alcohol use disorder
A new free, virtual training series for BC health care providers aimed at improving knowledge, skills and competencies in managing alcohol use disorder has launched. From the BC Centre on Substance Use





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


Focus image by Andrew, Flickr (Creative Commons)