Substance Use News, October 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 coronavirus/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. 

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


In the News

BC’s ‘Starting Point’ to Decriminalize Drug Possession Has Far to Go, Say Advocates
November 2: The exemption request to the federal government comes in the sixth year of BC’s overdose death public health emergency, with more than 7,700 people having lost their lives since 2016. This year is on track to be the second consecutive most deadly year for overdose deaths in BC. Critics and advocates say B.C.’s proposal won’t solve the deadly problem. The 4.5-gram limit is too low, they say, and safe supply is needed to address the root cause of deaths — poisoned drugs.Leaving youth out means a criminal record still could ‘cut short their progress to adulthood,’ says a Moms Stop the Harm co-founder.


BC applies to Federal Government for Exemption to s56 of CDSA
November 1: BC Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson announced the province has applied to Health Canada under s56 under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to remove criminal penalties for people who are in possession of small amounts of illicit substances.


BC opens ‘first of its kind’ addictions and mental health treatment centre in Coquitlam
October 30: 105-bed Red Fish Healing Centre replaces Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction on ex-Riverview lands Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson says the 105-bed Red Fish Healing Centre is the first of its kind and will allow patients to be treated for mental health and addictions together. Malcolmson says having both issues treated at the same time wasn’t previously possible at other BC treatment sites.


Vancouver’s chief medical officer recommends compassion club model to reduce illicit drug deaths
October 22: Vancouver’s head doctor said more headway needs to be made on the opioid crisis in British Columbia and one way to stop people from dying sooner rather than later is to move toward a compassion club model for distributing safe drugs in the city. Patricia Daly, the chief medical officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, made the recommendation to Vancouver City Council on Thursday during a presentation on the current illicit drug death situation.


New addictions recovery centre for women opening in Port Alberni
October 18: Port Alberni will be home to B.C.’s newest therapeutic community, modelled on a famous program started in Rimini, Italy in the 1970s. Former Port Alberni mayor John Douglas travelled to Portugal — which decriminalized the possession for use of all drugs — and then to San Patrignano in Italy, which pioneered the therapeutic community model for substance use recovery.


Funding strengthens BC’s system of substance-use treatment, recovery care
October 13: The BC Government announced ” A new investment in BC’s system of substance-use care will build up treatment and recovery services for people who need them in communities throughout the province. This $132-million investment over the next three years for treatment and recovery services is part of Budget 2021’s historic half-billion-dollar investment to continue building a comprehensive system of mental health and addictions care from the ground up.”


Drug Use Treatment Services to Expand as ‘Waitlists Have Become Death Lists’
October 13: Province announces funding for recovery, but critics say the prolonged toxic drug crisis needs more action. Expanding treatment and recovery services alone doesn’t address the root cause of deaths: a toxic and unpredictable criminalized drug supply. Guy Felicella, a peer advisor at the BC Centre on Substance Use, noted there are “two separate crises”: failed addiction treatment and an illicit-drug poisoning crisis.


Cocaine, heroin and meth buyers’ club gets Vancouver’s approval to secure a safe supply
October 7: The City of Vancouver voted unanimously in favour of supporting a peer-led program that would help get a safe supply of drugs to individuals at high risk of overdose in the Downtown Eastside.


Drug decriminalization movement gaining momentum in Canada as overdose deaths surge
September 29: As overdose deaths keep surging in Canada, the movement to decriminalize illicit drugs is gaining steam, with one of the country’s largest mental health facilities joining national advocates and several major cities in putting pressure on the federal government to act.


Advocacy and Education

Open Letter to the ‘new’ Government-Demanding action
Please join the Association des intervenants en dépendance du Québec; Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs; Canadian Drug Policy Coalition; and HIV Legal Network to take action on drug policy. Canadian politicians have been eager to reassure citizens that when it comes to COVID-19, their decision making is entirely science-based. Unfortunately, the Government of Canada continues to fail to take critical action on the opioid crisis, a public health crisis that not only predates COVID-19 but continues to be exacerbated by it.


Alcohol-related deaths up during pandemic with anxiety, depression likely factors
Medical experts are saying changes in pandemic-related stressors and addictions infrastructure are the leading causes of increasing rates of alcohol mortality during COVID-19. The severity of alcohol dependence among people with pre-existing substance use disorders increased during the pandemic, according to Dr. Kevin D. Shield. Data emerging from Statistics Canada identifying what Dr. Shield calls 100 per cent alcohol-attributable deaths have highlighted how the condition of people with severe alcohol dependence has worsened during the pandemic.


How to Spot Someone so They Never Use Alone
This new resource from CAPUD is available in both official languages and provides an step by step guide about spotting.


Cop Baked In, an episode from Crackdown podcast
Suboxone has a “cop baked in;” it produces very little euphoria and can stop you from getting high on other opioids. Some doctors and policy makers say this enables people to pursue a more meaningful life, but drug user activists worry this kind of war on euphoria will only lead to more overdose deaths.


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


Focus image by Andrew, Flickr (Creative Commons)