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.
In the News
Alberta’s top court dismisses challenge of ID requirement at supervised drug-use sites
January 31: Alberta’s top court has dismissed an appeal from harm reduction advocates who wanted to stop a provincial policy that requires people who want to use a supervised drug-injection site to provide their health-card number to get inside. “[Government lawyers] have confirmed that Alberta Health has directed that while requesting a personal health number is mandatory at intake, no person will be denied service if they refuse to comply,” the decision says.
‘This is a win’: Support grows for motion to decriminalize small amounts of drugs
January 28: Two city councillors in Winnipeg ant the city’s chief administrative officer to work with the federal government and start the process of exploring decriminalization in Winnipeg. This follows the lead of other Canadian cities including Toronto and Vancouver that are asking for city-wide exemptions from sections of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Yukon declares substance use health emergency after 4 deaths in 1st week of January
January 20: “Far too many are dying in our communities and here in Whitehorse. There are no right words for news like this. It is truly heartbreaking,” Yukon Health Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said at a news conference. Officials have recently warned Yukoners to be “extremely careful,” and that the drug supply in the Yukon is becoming “increasingly dangerous,” with risks of benzodiazepines (“benzos”) being used in conjunction with opioids.
As physicians, the ‘safe supply’ of opioids is one of the best tools we have to tackle Canada’s drug-poisoning crisis
January 17: Some physicians will sympathize with Dr. Vincent Lam’s recent opinion column [in the Globe and Mail], in which he argues that safe supply is harmful. Dr. Lam’s critique of safe supply concentrates on prescribing hydromorphone – one of several opioid medications for severe pain that can be used this way – to patients with opioid-use disorder. “Safe supply” has many facets, however, only one of which is prescribing pharmaceuticals to replace tainted drugs. Dr. Lam also assumes that provision of safe supply is meant to be a treatment for addictions. This is a mistake, because the primary outcome of ensuring access to drugs that are not poisoned is survival, not recovery. The first must precede the latter in any case.
Not in Chip: Northern Alberta hamlet campaigning against drugs
January 11: Three Indigenous groups in Fort Chipewyan have launched a new campaign against drug activity, with the goal of strengthening the community’s relationship with the RCMP and promoting a healthy way of living.
Court dismisses request for injunction to suspend ID requirement to access Alberta’s supervised consumption sites, despite noting ‘irreparable harm’
January 11: In a written decision released January 10, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Paul Belzil said although he believes some clients will experience “irreparable harm” by having an overdose — some of which may result in death — as a result of the new rule, it doesn’t outweigh the need for the provincial government to be able to make policy decisions.
How two doctors are changing the rules in the fight against opioid addiction
January 9: Marion-Bellemare is in the fight of her life, and along with another doctor, has launched a unique program to address the tragic effects of opioids in Timmins. Over the past few years, the death rate from opiate overdoses here has been among the highest in the country. In 2019 the rate in Timmins was 46.8 deaths for every 100,000 people – four times the Ontario average and twice as high as Vancouver, which is generally considered ground-zero for the opioid crisis. In 2020 the death rate rose even higher to 72 deaths per 100,000.
Alcohol should have cancer warning labels, say doctors and researchers pushing to raise awareness of risk
January 8: “Even drinking one drink a day increases your risk of some cancers — including, if you’re a woman, breast cancer — but also cancers of the digestive system, the mouth, stomach,” said Tim Stockwell, a senior scientist with the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria.
CBC Radio’s The House: Tackling two pandemics
December 11: This episode of The House from December features Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett on the push to decriminalize illicit drugs, as The House reports on Canada’s other health crisis — the rise in overdose deaths.
Advocacy and Education
New BCCSU guidance: Risk Mitigation and OUD Practice Update
After over a year of Risk Mitigation prescribing experience, the emergence of preliminary evaluation data and experience from clinicians and people who use drugs has led to the development of an update to Interim Clinical Guidance: Risk Mitigation in the Context of Dual Health Emergencies, which features expanded and amended guidance for mitigating substance-related risks in the context of COVID-19.
London, Ontario study suggests a prescription can change a street drug user’s life for the better
A study that followed drug users in London, Ont., who were given prescription opioids instead of using street supplies has found over a third stopped using intravenous drugs. The year-long study followed 248 people living with addiction on the streets of London between April 1 2020 and Sept. 31, 2021.
Alcohol can cause cancer, so why don’t most Canadians know that?
Alcohol is one of the top three causes of preventable cancer, so why aren’t Canadians being informed about the risks? Health experts say it’s time to put warning labels on alcohol — something the industry has pushed back against.
Activists Who Are Risking All to End the War on Drugs
Travis Lupick previously wrote the story of drug user health advocacy in Vancouver. His second book shines a light on Americans. “I think it’s so important that we understand that people who use drugs are often self-medicating; they are often victims of trauma and mental illness. Because I think if we understand that, then we understand that if you’re throwing these people in jail, all you’re doing is victimizing the victims.”
Examining prevalence and correlates of smoking opioids in British Columbia: opioids are more often smoked than injected
Since 2017, smoking illicit drugs has been the leading mode of drug administration causing overdose death in BC Yet, little is known about people who smoke opioids, and factors underlying choice of mode of administration. The study objectives are to identify the prevalence and correlates associated with smoking opioids.
Treating Addiction as a Crime Doesn’t Work. What Oregon Is Doing Just Might
Oregon’s sweeping decriminalization of drug possession passed as a ballot measure in 2020. The idea is to have the people most harmed by the war on drugs — like those with addiction and people of color — help lead a peaceful resolution. By decriminalizing personal-use drug possession, Oregon has become the first state to acknowledge that it is impossible to treat addiction as a disease and a crime simultaneously.
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