Substance Use News, November 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

Moncton Woman Able to Resume Treatment After Conflict With Doctor
November 24: Earlier this month, Rebecca Billard, spoke out about losing access to her opioid-addiction treatment after she and her doctor disagreed on her chosen method of birth control.


New Zealand Permanently Legalizes Drug Checking, a Global First
November 24: New Zealand permanently legalized drug checking on November 23, by passing a bill to let a pilot program performing the harm reduction service at festivals continue and expand its operations. Data showed that 68 percent of participants changed their behavior as a result of accessing the service, and 87 percent said they better understood the harms of drug use after talking with the people performing it.


BC Minister of Mental Health and Addictions’ statement on National Addictions Awareness Week
November 23: “Over this National Addictions Awareness Week, I’m thinking of the devastating effect that addiction has on people, families and communities – but also how recent weather events can make this even more difficult. The challenges we are facing are unprecedented and we are working as fast as we can to keep people safe. I encourage anyone who is struggling to call 310-6789 for confidential mental health support.


Wearable device a potential lifesaver for opioid overdoses: study
November 22: A wearable device that detects signs of an opioid overdose and injects a drug to reverse the event could be a lifesaving tool, according to a newly published paper by American scientists who researched and helped develop the prototype.


Decades of politicians ignoring the evidence led to today’s opioid crisis
November 22: A generation after Vancouver embraced “harm reduction” to combat the 1990s pandemic of AIDS/HIV and needle use, the plague has metastasized and five people a day are dying.


More than 1,500 people have now died in 2021 due to BC’s toxic illegal drug supply: coroner
November 9: New statistics show that 181 people died in August, followed by 152 in September. The coroner said it was the largest number of deaths from toxic drugs ever recorded for those calendar months. The latest reported fatalities bring the death toll for the first nine months of the year to 1,534 — a 24 per cent jump from the same period in 2020.


Alcohol and cannabis sales across Canada rose by over $2.6B during the pandemic, study suggests
November 4: Study findings from Hamilton’s McMaster University, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and the Homewood Research Institute showed alcohol sales were 5.5 per cent over projected sales, which means people bought $1.86 billion more in alcohol than predicted pre-pandemic. Cannabis sales were 25 per cent more than expected, equaling an additional $811 million. McMaster’s James MacKillop said the research suggests that as we come out of the pandemic, we should plan to deal with increased issues around substance abuse.



Advocacy and Education

Complete the 2022 Global Drug Survey to Help Other Drug Users
The world’s largest drug survey wants to know how you get high and why. You can fill out the Global Drug Survey now online—all answers are anonymous and encrypted. Our responses will help researchers understand more about how we use drugs—like why people (notably in Europe) roll cannabis and tobacco together, how psychedelics and sex intersect, and how drug policies impact personal decisions.


Peer Advocacy Navigators at the BC Centre on Substance Use
Seeking help for opioid use can be confusing, frustrating, and, ultimately, defeating. Nobody knows that better than Laura Shaver and Reija Jean, who are Peer Advocacy Navigators with the BC Centre on Substance Use. They use what they learned when they sought support to advocate for accessible and equitable pathways to care.


Community-Led Compassion Clubs
This presentation from the Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) shares the compassion club model, an innovative project that aims to reduce overdose-related deaths by introducing regulation into the illicit drug market and providing a consistent supply of substances that are labeled with the contents and potency.


Decolonizing Drug Policy
The ‘colonization of drug control’ refers to the use of drug control by states in Europe and America to advance and sustain the systematic exploitation of people, land and resources and the racialized hierarchies, which were established under colonial control and continue to dominate today. Globally, Black, Brown and Indigenous peoples are disproportionately targeted for drug law enforcement and face discrimination across the criminal system. This review provides further evidence of the need to reform the current system. It outlines a three-pillared approach to rebuilding drug policy in a way that supports health, dignity and human rights.


Changing policies and addressing inequities: The health and wellbeing of people who use drugs
CATIE’s overview of the International Network on Health and Hepatitis in Substance Users (INHSU) first conference is excellent. It covers key themes and takeaways to ponder. “The health and well-being of people who use drugs at its core is an issue of social justice and this cause should be linked with broader social justice movements in efforts to change policies.”


Evidence-based advocacy resources 
The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition is sharig a number of resources for advoacy, “A roadmap to change revealed through research.”


Treatment and care for alcohol use disorder
In this episode of the Addiction Practice Pod, Dr. Roland Engelbrecht and David Ball talk with guests about alcohol harm reduction, treatment, and the impacts of alcohol use disorder on family and loved ones.


Overdose Prevention Planning and Tools for Overdose Detection
Brave cooperative builds tools to detect and respond to overdose, especially for people who use alone. They are co-designed with people who use drugs to make overdose detection accessible to everyone, especially those most at risk. Our tools include an app, buttons, and a sensor.


How Diverting Opioids Can Be Harm Reduction
In a transformative shift in discourse, drug-user activists and researchers are speaking out about how the pharmaceutical-quality of diverted prescription opioids (PO) can actually reduce overdose risks, and how the income from their sale empowers diverters to get what they need to survive—all evidenced by a growing body of literature.


Assessing the relationship between syringe exchange, pharmacy, and street sources of accessing syringes and injection drug use behavior in a pooled nationally representative sample of people who inject drugs in the United States from 2002 to 2019
This nationally representative study examined associations between obtaining syringes from pharmacies, syringe exchange programs, and sterilizing syringes with bleach and risk of syringe borrowing, lending and reusing syringes in a population of 1737 people who inject drugs from the 2002–2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.


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


Focus image by Andrew, Flickr (Creative Commons)