Substance Use News, February 2022


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 toxic drug crisis has changed a lot since 2017 — but the BC NDP’s policies have not, say advocates
February 27: The main plank of the province’s approach continues to be addiction treatment however, with Robinson touting “hundreds” of new beds being built province-wide for those experiencing drug addiction. Mark Tyndall, professor at the University of British Columbia and founder of safe supply advocacy project MySafeSociety, says the policies enacted by the NDP in the last five years have done little to curb overdose deaths.


Vancouver Overdose Prevention Site Must Move by End of March
February 22: Vancouver Coastal Health hasasked the property owner for a lease extension, but the request was denied. Leasing the site for use as an overdose prevention site was always intended to be a temporary arrangement during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Amidst Drug Crisis, Calls for Bold Safe Supply Spending Go Unheeded
February 22: The BC budget indicates no change in its approach to the worsening toxic drug crisis despite unprecedented deaths and calls for bold spending to expand safe supply. The budget stays the course on current funding plans for treatment and recovery programs, and does not include new spending for safe supply, which advocates say has become more urgent in the last year.


Alone and in Pain, This ER Patient Was Left at a Bus Stop
February 18: Advocates say stigma, dismissal and mistreatment are “rampant” in hospitals across British Columbia for people like Pierre Sharelove who use substances. “It’s so dehumanizing.”


What Are the Prospects for Canada’s Federal Drug Decriminalization Bill?
February 16: The federal New Democratic Party (NDP) has proposed a federal bill to decriminalize drug possession nationwide. The private member’s bill, Bill C-216, will be debated in the spring.


Provincial Action Needed NOW on Toxic Drug Supply
February 14: There is a growing consensus that the lack of urgency, political will and leadership from our provincial government is another key contributing factor. This includes not only the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions (MMHA), but the Ministry of Health and the Premier. The medicalized model of safer supply that is being extolled as a solution by the province, isn’t one. The overdose crisis is the single biggest health crisis confronting BC. It represents a significant failure of our health system to provide care.


Pharmacists’ practice options expand
February 14: Given the Yukon’s current state of emergency, the government is issuing a ministerial order to expand practice options for pharmacists. The temporary regulatory changes also allow pharmacists to extend and deliver physician prescriptions for controlled substances.


How the Toxic Drug Crisis Looks from the Frontlines
February 11: Every month or two, the government says it’s moving as quickly as it can to stem the “tragic” deaths through decriminalization, prescribed safe supply and funding for addiction treatment and recovery programs. Frontline workers say that’s not what’s happening. The Tyee spoke to six frontline harm reduction workers about how the toxic drug crisis is playing out across British Columbia.


Parents who lost children to drug toxicity call for provincial government to do more on opioid crisis
February 10: Moms Stop the Harm and other activist voices held a rally are demanding safe drug supply, decriminalization of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use, and more treatment resources for people seeking to detox.


The War on Drugs Is a Century Old. These Vancouver Activists Are Pushing to End It
February 10: In the spring of 2020, two activists formed an organization called the Drug User Liberation Front, or DULF, to push for changes to the way people in Canada think about and use drugs. The group isn’t just advocating for change. They’re breaking Canadian laws to show how drug use could be safer if people had legal access to tested, untainted drugs — and they’re working to create a compassion club model for users of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.


BC Is in a ‘Worse Place than Ever’ for Toxic Drug Deaths
February 9: British Columbia must do whatever it takes to expand safe supply programs to prevent toxic drug deaths, B.C.’s Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said today, as her office confirmed that 2,224 people died in 2021. Lapointe said the province’s efforts to provide prescribed safe supply to keep people from depending on the toxic drug supply are inadequate when seven lives are lost in B.C. each day. Nearly 10,000 people have died in the last decade.


BC coroner’s report shows illicit toxic drug deaths highest ever in 2021
February 9: “If the criminalization of drugs and drug users was supposed to reduce harm and prevent death, it is clearly an abject and very costly failure. It has resulted in shame, fear and punishment for people of all ages and for all walks of life.” – Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe. Press conference recording


Minister’s, PHO statement on lives lost to poisoned drugs in 2021
February 9: Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, and Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, have released the following statement regarding the BC Coroners Service’s report on illicit drug toxicity deaths for December 2021, which begins: “It is with a heavy heart that our province continued to experience an unprecedented number of lives lost to the toxic drug supply in 2021. It is beyond devastating that we lost 2,224 people: our brothers, sisters, children, parents, neighbours and friends to toxic drugs. No words can soften these losses. “The number of people who died from the toxic drug supply last year is unacceptable and we must do more to prevent this tragic loss of life. ”


Advocacy and Education

These 5 myths about BC’s toxic drug crisis are hurting efforts to stop the deaths, say experts
To get a better handle on some of the misconceptions, CBC spoke to experts who are experiencing the crisis from three different viewpoints: Leslie McBain, co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm, chief coroner Lisa LaPointe, and drug policy consultant Karen Ward.


As People Who Use Drugs, We Are the Safer Supply Experts—Not Physicians
As people who use drugs (PWUD), we denounce the unfounded critiques of safer supply by addiction medicine physicians like Vincent Lam, medical director of Coderix Medical Clinic in Toronto. We are the ones navigating the illicit drug supply daily. We are the experts. Arguments against safer supply are consistently inaccurate, pro-profit and rooted in fear and hate-based ideology. Both medicalized and non-medicalized models of safer supply are part of the continuum of harm reduction.


“[BC] politicians must face the music after another year of record-breaking overdose deaths. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson and Minister of Health Adrian Dix must resign. The latest from Crackdown podcast.


Will We Ever Understand Addiction?
Our culture, ever on the lookout for easy, unambiguous answers to the predicament of being flawed and often unhappy humans, is a sucker for all-encompassing, reductive paradigms like “addiction” and, more recently, “trauma.” What these tropes share is a medley of explanations, depending on whom you listen to, some of them leaning toward nurture and some toward nature and some again toward a perfect storm of both.


Safer supply prescribing not enough to end devastating opioid epidemic, experts say
“The difference with SOS is the paradigm that it’s founded on is less about a treatment paradigm and more about avoiding the overmedicalization of addiction and honouring the fact that some people may use drugs for the rest of their lives,” says Bowles. “It’s not our place to judge or place value on what we think a meaningful life is.” Regardless of their stance on SOS, addictions treatment providers agree that tackling the epidemic will require numerous interventions, many of which go beyond the scope of the medical system. Access to treatment services will need to continue to expand, and the current model of specialized addictions medicine clinics may not be enough.


Critical Terminology Guide
Refresh your knowledge on the meaning of Compassion clubs, criminalization, decriminalization, drug dependence and more in this new resource from the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.


A BC Safe Supply Program Pushes the Medical Model as Far as It Will Go
In 2019, Canada funded an expansion of safe supply and put out a call for pilot programs. Of particular interest to the federal health department was an emerging approach it identified as a “flexible” model: community-based, low-threshold public health initiatives that suggested a “strong potential for scaling up” and reaching people left out by more structured programs. It would still be a medicalized model, but as removed from addiction medicine as possible without breaking any laws.


LOUD in the ED: Stopping the revolving door
Every day in emergency departments across the province, someone who uses opioids is discharged without ever being offered treatment or care. As a result, the risk of a fatal overdose increases the moment that person walks out those hospital doors, the opportunity to connect them with evidence-based care is gone. The Learning about Opioid Use Disorder (LOUD) in the ED initiative aims to change that by providing accessible training and resources to improve how substance use care is delivered in EDs. For Dr. Andrew Kestler, targeting clinicians working in EDs is a no-brainer.


Treatment considerations for co-occurring substance use disorders
In this episode of Addiction Practice Pod, Dr. Lindsay Mackay, David Ball and their guests talk about co-occurring substance use and its implications in clinical care. In particular, they discuss co-occurring substance use as it relates to gender and to stigma in the clinic.



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Focus image by Andrew, Flickr (Creative Commons)