Substance Use News, June 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

Coroners Service Illicit Drug Toxicity Deaths in BC to May 31, 2021
June 29: One hundred and sixty people died of suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths in May 2021, slightly down from 177 in May 2020. The death rate in males has remained high, at 80%.


BC’s safer supply program needs more choice, say drug users and advocates
June 29: An advocate for people on bail and probation on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, says many of his clients sell their safer supply prescriptions because the drug choices are limited.


‘We’ve got to do better’: Toronto readies to launch non-police crisis response pilot
June 29: The City of Toronto has established an $11-million pilot project that will soon become Canada’s largest non-police alternative response program since George Floyd’s murder. The pilot will launch in January in Toronto’s northeast and northwest — two underserved areas of the city — with the goal of adding two more by mid-2022, including a unit to service the Indigenous population.


BC’s Construction Industry Is ‘Ground Zero’ for Opioid Crisis among Workers
June 24: Substance use in the construction industry has been a problem for a long time, but it is now more serious than ever. Paddy Byrne, president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 38 and director of training for the Finishing Trades Institute of BC, has a blunt assessment of what’s going on in construction right now. “We are probably ground zero, to be quite honest. We have the highest percentage of any industry when it comes to opioid addictions and overdoses,” Byrne said.


100 years after the end of alcohol prohibition, advocates push for drug decriminalization
June 15: It’s been 100 years since the Liquor Control Board of British Columbia opened the first of nine government liquor stores on June 15, 1921, officially marking an end to prohibition. Karen Ward, a long time advocate for people who use drugs, says the anniversary makes her hopeful that other illegal substances won’t always be so heavily restricted.


BC mayors lend support to Vancouver’s drug decriminalization plan
June 15: Mayors from all corners of the province have signed a letter in support of the City of Vancouver as it seeks Health Canada’s approval to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs. Mayors of Victoria, Saanich, Nanaimo, Burnaby, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam and Kamloops says they support the Vancouver Model, and want the federal government to support it, too.


We Could Change BC’s Drug Policies and Save Six Lives Today
June 10: The drug supply is poison not because of what’s in it, but because the consumer does not know what’s in it, and they don’t know its potency. People do not know what they’re putting in their body because it is a prohibited, criminalized substance. This is a problem regulation will solve.


Alberta Government’s New Rules Set SCS Up to Fail, Advocates Say
June 10: United Conservative Party recently released its Recovery-oriented Overdose Prevention Guide, which outlines a slew of standards that a supervised consumption site must now meet to become licensed. Dr. Bonnie Larson believes that the government of Alberta is not listening to experts or the lived experience of people who use drugs. Rather, their decisions are “entirely driven by their own ideology.”


BC’s Opioid Substitution System Isn’t a System at All, Say Frontliners
June 8: Even as the poisoned drug crisis worsens medical therapies to remove people from the street supply, like opioid agonist treatments, remain financially and geographically inaccessible to the vast majority of BC’s more than 88,000 opioid-dependent people.


Letter to The City of Vancouver Decriminalization Working Group Oversight Committee
May 31: This letter was sent after the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) stepped away from the The City of Vancouver Decriminalization Working Group Oversight Committee as a result of the failure to meaningfully engage them and their membership. “We had previously expressed our concerns about the process used to determine the thresholds included in submission to Health Canada. Specifically, we were concerned that people who use drugs and the organizations that represent them had not been properly consulted and that the scientific evidence collected alongside people who use drugs was not fully utilized.”


Advocacy and Education

Naloxone is Not Enough: Letters from the Heart of the Crisis
In May 2021, BC’s take-home naloxone program reached the milestone of 1 million kits distributed. Naloxone is Not Enough: Letters from the Heart of the Crisis holds the reflections of people with lived experience of substance use and people who used drugs on this important milestone that is but one part of supportive health services for people who use drugs.


Detox Was the Right Choice for Me—Even If I Don’t Plan on Abstinence
Not everyone goes to detox to become abstinent.  I was there for one specific reason: to take a break so I wouldn’t die. I live and breathe harm reduction, but the prospect of some peace and quiet away from the world—and my supplier—was enough to make me enter a place associated with “recovery.” If you think detox is only for 12-steppers who don’t carry naloxone, you’d be wrong.


People who use drugs who are homeless good candidates for PrEP with appropriate support
The Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program more than doubled the number of PrEP prescriptions among people who use drugs who are experiencing homelessness compared to the previous year after adopting an innovative, low-threshold model of care.



Guidelines for Partnering with People with Lived and Living Experience of Substance Use and Their Families and Friends
This document from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction provides guidance for working with people with lived and living experience of substance use and their families
and friends, and is intended for individuals and organizations who partner with or wish to partner with
these groups.


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


Focus image by Andrew, Flickr (Creative Commons)