Substance Use News, July 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. 

Information for People Who Use Substances: get the latest alerts, and tips on how to stay safe from Toward the Heart.


In the News

Splitting and sharing at overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites: What we learned
July 29: Splitting and sharing implies acquiring, separating and/or transferring drugs between individuals, a common practice among people who use drugs. However, it is currently prohibited within federally exempted OPS/SCS settings. We wanted to know firsthand from people who use drugs and OPS/SCS operators the impacts of this restriction. To explore this topic, members of the Urgent Public Health Need Site (UPHNS) Community of Practice and the Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs (CAPUD) formed a working group to survey 140 respondents across Canada who either use OPS/ SCS or work at these sites as service providers.


The US Faces a Naloxone Shortage at the Worst Possible Time
July 29: The Pfizer website lists the availability of its injectable naloxone formulation as “depleted.” In a perfect world, Pfizer’s listing would be banal. A shortage of one generic WHO-declared essential medication for one manufacturer (among several in the US) doesn’t sound like a crisis scenario. Yet Pfizer’s supply disruptions are causing the worst naloxone shortage the country has faced since at least 2012, when overdose levels were less than half of what they are now.


Health Canada dragging feet on approving magic mushrooms for therapeutic use, patients and advocates say
July 27: Psilocybin is at the forefront of a renaissance in psychedelic therapy, due in part to persuasive research at institutions such as Johns Hopkins University and the University of California. Some peer-reviewed studies have found that psilocybin have antidepressant effects and can allow patients, with the help of trained therapists, to confront fears and feelings that are otherwise too traumatic.


Critics say BC’s Safe Supply Plan is Too Slow and Too Small
July 16: “It is the smallest possible increment of a step,” says harm reduction advocate and Crackdown podcast host Garth Mullins. Provincial health officer Bonnie Henry said safer supply is one of several tools to address the crisis.


BC expands safe supply to curb overdose crisis death toll
July 16: Overdose prevention worker Mike Knott said the safer supply plan was a great start, but he’d like to see more drugs available sooner, particularly stimulants and diacetylmorphine — a medical grade, injectable heroin.


Provincial government expands prescribed safer supply to help reduce deaths from the toxic drug supply
July 15: Hear AVI’s Heather Hobbs talk about the Safer program, a frontline support program serving people who use drugs. (nine minute clip)


BC’s prescribed safer supply program expands to reduce overdoses and deaths from illicit drugs
July 15: A range of opioids like fentanyl patches and stimulants will be provided in safer supply program says BC Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson.


BC to provide regulated substances under safe supply directive to mitigate drug overdoses
July 12: A document obtained by The Globe and Mail reveals that the provincial government recognizes that providing drug users with regulated versions of street drugs such as fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine can reduce deaths and other drug-related harms. But the government is reluctant to expand access quickly, the document suggests. The province’s safe supply plan will be rolled out in phases, programs will be required to develop clinical protocols and continuing evaluation will guide future steps.


Opioid deaths in Canada increased by 592% over 17-year period, University of Waterloo study indicates
July 7: The opioid epidemic started long before it made headlines, researcher Wasem Alsabbagh says. “After 2015 … things exploded. So we had huge increases between 2015 and 2017,” says researcher Alsabbagh, a pharmacy professor and lead author of a new study. Hospitalizations also arose “significantly” between 2000 and 2012, from 159.7 opioid hospitalizations per million people in 2000 to 325.3 hospitalizations in 2012, the study indicates.


The Fight for Medical Use of Magic Mushrooms Is Moving to the Courts
July 5: The fight for the right to use and possess magic mushrooms for medical purposes could be headed to Federal Court in a case that echoes the early efforts to legalize the medicinal use of cannabis. The legal challenge is being marshalled by TheraPsil, the B.C.-based non-profit that last August helped a cancer patient secure the first exemption under Canada’s drug laws to use magic mushrooms for psychotherapy.


Informed Pharmacists Are Key for Drug Users. A New Program Will Train Them
July 2: A new partnership between the BC Centre on Substance Use, the University of British Columbia and Shoppers Drug Mart aims to improve pharmacist-patient relationships. In a June press release, the centre announced that a $2-million gift from Shoppers to UBC will establish a new fellowship, the first of its kind in Canada, to support pharmacist-focused addiction treatment education at the centre.



Advocacy and Education

Mentorship in Medicine
Peer mentorship is an important approach to help address this longstanding gap in addiction training. For Dr. Leslie Lappalainen, Medical Lead for Addiction Medicine, Mental Health and Substance Use (MHSU) at Interior Health, mentorship can help build capacity and expertise across the health system to better support people with substance use disorders.


Doctors’ Deafening — and Deadly – Silence on the Closure of Calgary’s Supervised Consumption Service
Upon graduating from medical school, I took an oath to “practice medicine with conscience and in truth. The health and dignity of my patients will be my first concern.” As I consider the closure of Calgary’s supervised consumption service, I have to wonder what pledge was promised by my medical colleagues who have themselves witnessed the carnage of the opioid crisis since 2014. Did they take a different oath?


Wastewater analysis suggests that consumption of fentanyl, cannabis and methamphetamine increased in the early pandemic period
Results from Statistics Canada’s Canadian Wastewater Survey (CWS), which is collected in five major Canadian cities, suggest that these cities have seen an increase in drug consumption since the start of the pandemic. The analysis also indicates that estimates for drug use vary significantly from city to city, suggesting that different cities have distinct drug use profiles.


Enduring Prolonged Grief
How do you safeguard your heart and mind from the devastation of the fentanyl poisoning crisis? In the wake of countless preventable deaths, how do you stay afloat? What is emotional harm reduction, and how do I use it to survive in this sector?


Even by listening, harm reduction workers can improve mental health among people who use drugs
Among people who use drugs, harm reduction facilities and their staff can offer a reprieve from discrimination driven by stigma. Even small gestures like asking how a person is doing can improve the emotional wellbeing of the community members who use the various needle and syringe distribution organizations, supervised consumption sites (SCS), and other harm reduction organizations around the country.



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


Focus image by Andrew, Flickr (Creative Commons)