Substance Use News: January 2021

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

Government of Canada supports four safer drug supply projects in British Columbia
(February 1) “On behalf of the Minister of Health, the Honourable Hedy Fry, along with the Honourable Sheila Malcolmson, British Columbia’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, announced more than $15 million in federal funding for four safer supply projects for people at risk of overdose in B.C. These projects will provide pharmaceutical-grade medication as an alternative to the toxic illegal supply in circulation.”

Calls to decriminalize drugs grow louder during pandemic
Advocates in British Columbia have long been calling on the federal government to decriminalize drugs, yet action has been slow. Decriminalization means those who are found with small amounts of drugs would no longer face criminal charges, something advocates say would reduce the death toll of the worsening opioid crisis.

What Surging Fentanyl Use Among OAT Patients in Ontario Says About the Pandemic
Between April and September 2020, 67 opioid agonist therapy (OAT) clinics in Ontario logged a 108 percent increase in fentanyl-positive drug screens, according to a study published on December 23, 2020 in the International Journal of Drug Policy. The apparent spike in use of the potent opioid—which adulterates North America’s unregulated drug supply and is heavily involved in the unprecedented overdose crisis—alarmed the researchers. The study’s results, the researchers suggest, may be attributable to patients losing access to OAT services, navigating “unfamiliar drug networks due to temporary shortages in their usual supply,” or coping with “pandemic-related stress, anxiety and isolation.”

BC’s Safer Supply Program Is Too Slow to Start and Not Working, Users Say
The province’s expanded safer supply program is supposed to provide prescription drugs for people — heroin, hydromorphone and others — as an alternative to increasingly poisoned illicit supplies, preventing overdoses and deaths. Advocates say the program has failed to deliver on its promise, advocates say.

Thomas Fawcett is on a career path he never thought would be possible. “I just feel really blessed. Instead of the F-word like I used to say in the morning, I say ‘thank you.’”


The Provincial Overdose Mobile Response Team (MRT) was created in recognition of the psychosocial impact of the overdose public health emergency on first responders, frontline workers and people with lived/living experience and their peers. MRT provides immediate, short-term psychosocial support to build skills and capacity; promote individual and agency resiliency; create space to deal with grief and loss; and offer supportive strategies for living with and responding to trauma. Learn more and connect
This British Columbia (BC) toolkit is for all service providers to respond to opioid overdoses in a timely and effective way, informed by evidence, expert opinion and wise practices. This toolkit is intended for all service providers, including regulated and non-regulated service providers and paramedics, who are responding to opioid overdoses across BC.

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


Focus image by Andrew, Flickr (Creative Commons)