Substance Use News: November 2020

Substance Use News provides a snapshot of news and resources for those working in harm reduction. 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.


In the News

The BC government apologizes for systemic racism towards Indigenous people in BC’s health care system
The BC government has apologized for widespread occurrences of racism towards Indigenous people in BC’s health care system. The apology comes after a months-long investigation found wide-spread racism in the health care system including fear from Indigenous people to access hospitals due to racism.

A mother’s risk of an overdose goes up when a child is removed from her care

Child removal increases the likelihood that a woman may overdose, and the increase is even more significant for women of Indigenous descent.


How Better Toxic Drug Alerts Could Save Lives
BC’s patchwork system alerting people to poisoned drugs works well in some regions. But others fall short.


OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma pleads guilty, admits to role in deadly opioid epidemic
Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty in US court to three criminal charges, formally admitting its role in an opioid epidemic that has contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths over the past two decades.


Policing Associated With Higher HIV Risks Among People Who Inject Drugs
An analysis of data from studies conducted in nine different countries found that policing was associated with people’s avoidance of harm reduction services and with riskier injection behaviors—regardless of countries’ varying drug criminalization policies.


Seven drug overdoses at West End party prompts renewed warning about toxic drug supply in Vancouver
Seven adults overdosed from consuming cocaine and MDMA at a Vancouver party. “Although the VPD does not typically attend overdose calls, BC Ambulance requested our help,” VPD spokesperson Const. Jason Doucette explained in a news release. “The local supply chain is clearly contaminated, and we are reminding everyone, including recreational users, to exercise extreme caution when deciding to consume street drugs,” Const. Doucette stated.


Advocacy and Education

Legal and civil society groups commend City of Vancouver’s leadership on drug decriminalization
On November 18 2020, the Mayor of Vancouver, supported by Vancouver Coastal Health, announced a motion that could lead to the decriminalization of simple drug possession in Vancouver. If the motion is passed, Vancouver City Council will request an exemption from the federal government — under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act — that would protect all people in Vancouver from the enforcement of simple drug possession as a criminal offence. If implemented properly, this could eliminate all criminal consequences for possessing drugs for personal use.


Providing compassionate care to young people who use substances
Listen: This episode of the Addiction Practice Pod looks at youth who use drugs. Young people are the fastest-growing age demographic for hospitalizations due to opioid poisoning in Canada. In British Columbia, more than 1000 youth between the ages of 10 and 29 have died of overdose since a public health emergency was declared in 2016.


Addiction Practice Pod, Episode 5: The Harms of Criminalizing Substance Use
Listen: In this episode, addiction physician Dr. Christy Sutherland and journalist David Ball discuss the years-long overdose crisis in British Columbia, how the criminalization of substance use negatively impacts lives and health, and what role clinicians can play in reducing these harms in the absence of systemic change.


The Harms of Criminalizing Substance Use: An Interview with Dr. Bonnie Henry
If you prefer to read your updates, this is a section of the transcript from the episode of the Addiction Practice Pod noted above. Podcast creators spoke with Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC’s Provincial Health Officer. “People who use drugs, particularly people who have substance use disorders or addictions, need to be treated like other people with medical conditions. It’s not something different.”


How St. Paul’s Tackles the Overdose Crisis, One Patient at a Time
Launched in January 2020 at St. Paul’s in partnership with the BC Centre on Substance Use, results from the opioid stewardship program’s first six months show progress towards its goal of ensuring opioids are prescribed as effectively as possible in order to reduce misuse, long-term dependency, opioid use disorder and overdose deaths.


Convenience and comfort: reasons reported for using drugs alone among clients of harm reduction sites in British Columbia, Canada
Most fatal overdoses in BC occurred among individuals using alone and in private residences. This study aimed to assess prevalence and reasons for using drugs alone among people accessing harm reduction services in BC.



In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in BC Health Care
Released November 30, the Addressing Racism Review Summary Report must contribute to change within healthcare and support services for Indigenous people. “There is a common perception of Indigenous peoples as being less than. Less able to care for ourselves. Less able to achieve. Less able to advocate for the services we need. This report is not about less; it is about unity and the fundamental rights of all peoples. It is about confronting and acknowledging the negative, while making room for the positive.” – Shane Pointe, Musqueam Knowledge Keeper. Read full report


BC Coroners Service Report Illicit Drug Toxicity Deaths in BC January 1, 2010 – October 31, 2020
This report summarizes all unintentional illicit drug toxicity deaths in British Columbia (accidental
and undetermined) that occurred between January 1, 2010, and October 31, 2020, inclusive.




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


Focus image by Andrew, Flickr (Creative Commons)