Substance Use News, March 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

Interior Health opens 1-stop shop for harm reduction services in downtown Kelowna
March 29: The Interior Health authority has restructured its harm reduction services, putting them under one roof at a new site in downtown Kelowna, BC. The new Outreach Urban Health clinic is a one-stop shop providing primary care, mental health services, injectable opioid agonist treatment and supervised drug consumption for people struggling with addictions in the Central Okanagan city.

Safe drug supply program still not reaching enough people in BC, say advocates
March 26: It’s been a year since the province rushed to create new guidelines allowing doctors to prescribe hydromorphone to patients with opioid use disorders, as a way to give them an alternative to toxic illicit drugs. But now, as overdose deaths continue to rise, killing more than five people in the province each day according to the latest BC Coroners Service update, many are identifying shortfalls in the so called ‘safe supply’ program.

February 2021 sees the largest number of suspected deaths ever recorded in the month of February
In February 2021, there were 155 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths in BC, the largest
number of suspected deaths ever recorded in the month of February. This is a 107% increase over the number of deaths occurring in February 2020 (75) and an 11% decrease over the number of deaths
occurring in January 2021 (174). Males accounted for 81% of the deaths.

‘I Feel Really Defeated’: BC’s Overdose Deaths Continue Apace
March 24: It is the 11th month in a row where more than 100 people died of toxic drug poisonings in the province. In addition to increasing contamination in the illicit drug supply, pandemic measures have limited capacity at harm reduction sites for supervised consumption and drug-checking. “I’m all out of kindling and gasoline,” said advocate Garth Mullins.

As BC’s Overdose Crisis Deepens, Province Defends Efforts
March 2: At least 165 more British Columbians died of illicit drug overdoses in the first month of 2021, more than double the number of deaths recorded last January. Extreme fentanyl concentrations were present in nearly one in five deaths, the most ever recorded, the Coroners Service reported. Benzodiazepines, including analogues like etizolam, were found in almost half of deaths in January.

Interior Health adds youth substance use treatment beds in Kelowna
March 3: New beds will open this spring and are part of the Province’s commitment to double the number of youth substance use beds available in BC.


Advocacy and Education

Latest National Data on the Overdose Crisis
The Joint Statement from the Co-Chairs of the Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses looks at the latest Canadian statistics, and includes the note that “Opioid overdoses can also result in permanent harms. New analyses indicate that more than 4% of those hospitalized with opioid-related overdoses have brain injuries due to a lack of oxygen. Effects of these injuries can be life long and include paralysis, reduced physical and cognitive functioning, and behavioural changes.”

Develop a model for decriminalization that responds to needs of people who use drugs
An exemption must apply to all substances scheduled under the CDSA, to all quantities of substances where possession is for personal use, to all instances of transferring drugs of quantities below specified thresholds, and must not include other unnecessary restrictions or conditions that would undermine the benefits of decriminalization. From the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.

Most People With Addiction Outgrow It Naturally. We Need to Hear Them
While this article doesn’t dig deeply into intersections of trauma, race, class, or social stigma, it does look at the language and perception of what not using “should” look like.

BC tackling overdose crisis in Vancouver Island construction industry
In 2018, the BC Corners Service said that roughly 81 per cent of all fatal overdoses occurred among men, while 44 per cent of fatal overdose victims were employed. Of that total, more than 50 per cent of people were employed in the trades or transport industries. The Vancouver Island Construction Association (VICA) and the BC government have launched a new program, called the Tailgate Toolkit Project, to help address addictions and the overdose crisis in the industry.

Lessons from a new safe supply pilot project at the Hope to Health Centre in the Downtown Eastside
Webinar from BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, March 24, 2021

Read “The Young Injectables,” a Harm Reduction Comic Book
The Young Injectables features a trio of harm reductionist superheroes who patrol New York City fighting overdose and stigma and promoting safer use.

I Hid My Wounds for Months and Nearly Lost My Life: Stigma Kills Drug Users
I learned many lessons from my MRSA infection. One was that we need to inform ourselves when nobody else takes the trouble. Hospital policy and our medical system create deadly barriers for people who use drugs. When they leave us in pain and withdrawal and refuse to allow any guests for us, we leave against medical advice.


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


Focus image by Andrew, Flickr (Creative Commons)