Substance Use News, December 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

Failure to mention opioid crisis in ministerial mandate letters sends wrong signal, advocates say
December 21: By not explicitly mentioning the opioid crisis in any ministerial mandate letters, advocates are concerned the government is signalling a lack of commitment to addressing the issue. Carolyn Bennett was named minister of mental health and addictions in October, a new ministerial post, but her mandate letter, which outlines her priorities as directed by the prime minister, has no mention of the ongoing crisis. Moms Stop The Harm co-founder Petra Shulz said reaction among her group to the omission ranged from “disappointment to anger.”


Modelling projections for opioid-related deaths during the COVID-19 outbreak
December 15: The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) released new modelling projections of the number of opioid-related deaths that may occur over the course of the coming months. The results of the model suggest that, under some scenarios, the number of opioid-related deaths may remain high and may even increase through to June 2022.


First Nations on BC’s drug toxicity death toll
December 13: Indigenous people remain vastly over represented in BC’s drug toxicity death toll. We hear how health authorities and cities can build more resilience for drug users from First Nations.


BC Government Defends Failure to Halt Rising Drug Deaths
December 13: As British Columbia records more toxic drug deaths than ever, the minister responsible defended what experts and advocates have called a delayed and inadequate response to B.C.’s six-year-old public health emergency. Chief coroner says the lack of effective action to save lives will be a ‘stain on our province for decades to come.’


User group provided clean, tested drugs illegally
December 9: Co-founder of the Drug Users Liberation Front explains how the record number of poisoned-drug deaths prompted them to distribute clean, tested drugs to users.
B.C. sets record for suspected illicit-drug overdose deaths in October.


Leading Human Rights and Public Health Organizations Release National Drug Decriminalization Platform for Canada
December 9: The bill that the federal government introduced this week to repeal mandatory minimum sentences and offer alternatives to prosecution for simple drug possession is a step in the right direction, but doesn’t go far enough.


Drug user advocate on latest numbers of overdose deaths
December 9: Garth Mullins speaks with Stephen Quinn on CBC’s The Early Edition.


VCH health officer on record drug overdose deaths
December 9: Dr. Patricia Daly: “Governments are reluctant to do anything outside of medical models of prescribing, and we’re never going to be able to prescribe our way out of this crisis, we simply cannot reach enough people at risk, its too high barrier of an approach for many people, and we need to think of another way to provide a safer supply.”


2021 now deadliest year for illicit-drug overdoses in BC, after record 201 deaths in October, coroner says
December 9: Safe supply advocate Garth Mullins said governments are abdicating responsibility by not acting quickly in the face of a worsening crisis.  “We call it a kind of ‘necro-politics,'” said Mullins, a member of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users. “People sit in capitals like Victoria or Ottawa and they just decide who’s going to live and who’s going to die by policy.”


BC sets record for suspected illicit-drug overdose deaths in October
December 9: As the number of people lost to the toxic drug supply rises to new heights, BC Green Leader Sonia Furstenau accused the NDP government of “not doing enough to stop this tragedy”.
Her party has repeatedly called for an emergency all-party committee to address this issue, as have the BC Liberals. “The political will is lacking only from this government, and it is costing lives,” Furstenau said in a statement.


In potentially groundbreaking decision, BC judge says jail no answer for addicts who traffic fentanyl
December 7: In a ruling likely to send shockwaves through BC’s justice system, Campbell River Provincial Court Judge Barbara Flewelling broke with years of precedent set by BC’s top court — suspending sentence for a woman who was facing up to three years in jail for trafficking in fentanyl, placing her on probation instead. Judge Flewelling wrote, “I conclude that drug addicts who sell small quantities of drugs at the street level for the primary purpose of ensuring their own drug supply, are far less morally culpable than those farther up in the hierarchy. They are motivated, not for profit or greed, but to ensure their own supply and to avoid the severe effects of withdrawal.”


Overdose Prevention Sites Bring Broad Health Benefits, Study Finds
December 2: New and mounting evidence that overdose prevention sites bring broad health benefits to individuals and positively impact their communities has one advocate asking why British Columbia isn’t working harder to open more of them. But despite the need for the sites in every community in BC, few outside Vancouver get off the ground due to municipal and neighbourhood opposition that ignores the evidence of their benefits.



Advocacy and Education

Alcohol and drug use in Canada, 2019
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many changes in Canadians’ behaviours and lifestyles. Moreover, the disruption and stress caused by the pandemic may have led a number of Canadians to consume more cannabis, alcohol and tobacco products than usual. New data from the 2019 Canadian Alcohol and Drugs Survey (CADS) were released on December 20, 2021.  Although the data were collected before the start of the pandemic, they are an important benchmark for understanding the alcohol and drug use patterns of Canadians. When similar data are collected in the future, it will be possible to determine, for instance, whether behaviour and consumption pattern changes associated with the COVID-19 pandemic are sustained over the longer term.


Risks and Harms Associated with the Nonmedical Use of Benzodiazepines in the Unregulated Drug Supply in Canada
This bulletin is intended for harm reduction service providers, first responders, medical and public health professionals, policymakers and PWUD. It provides an overview of the most common NMBs detected in Canada and points to locally developed resources. It aims to inform local responses for preventing and reducing associated health harms.


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


Focus image by Andrew, Flickr (Creative Commons)