Substance Use News, March 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.


Advocacy and Education

Safe Supply Roundtable – Beyond Medical Models
When Moms Stop the Harm co-founders Leslie McBain and Petra Schulz  met with Carolyn Bennett, the Federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health they discussed the importance of developing scalable models for safe supply. When the Minister offered that she would attend a round table on the topic if MSTH were to organize one, they immediately jumped at the opportunity and reached out to the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition to help us organize and host. The round table took place on March 10, 2022 with Minister Bennett, Deputy Minister Stephen Lukas and an expert panel led by people who use drugs, as well as observers from Health Canada, MSTH and other national organizations in attendance. The focus of the meeting was to explore models for non-medicalized safe supply.


PAN Letter to Minister Bennet re: BC Application for a s 56(1) Exemption
The member organizations of PAN write to urge you to grant the province of BC’s application for a section 56(1) exemption, to protect all BC residents from the application of section 4(1) of the CDSA. We also submit that the thresholds contained within the province’s application are the absolute minium of what should be included in the exemption and should not be reduced. Smaller thresholds would disadvantage people in rural or more remote areas, who may need to travel to stock up. Smaller threshold(s) would further disadvantage people based on their income / finances, where they live and the access they have to a safer supply.


Imagine safer supply: envisioning an ideal safe supply program, from available substances to the staff and setting
I never even completed high school, so the idea that I could one day be a skilled and experienced mixed-methods researcher, get paid for my knowledge and respected when I spoke, and co-author published papers and articles far exceeded my modest dreams. Imagine Safer Supply is a massive undertaking—a multi-provincial qualitative research project seeking to explore the attitudes and perceptions people have about safer supply. We spoke to both people who identify as substance users and people who were primarily involved in frontline service provision to drug users. We found that there is less of a hard line dividing these two groups than we had expected.


“You can’t go wrong being safe”: Motivations, patterns, and context surrounding use of fentanyl test strips for heroin and other drugs
This study aimed to capture people who use drugs’ (PWUD) lived experiences to understand motivations underlying FTS uptake, ongoing use, and actions after testing.


One-month alcohol abstinence national campaigns: a scoping review of the harm reduction benefits
Over the last decade, one-month alcohol abstinence campaigns (OMACs) have been implemented within the general population in an increasing number of countries. We identified the published studies reporting data on OMACs to explore the following aspects: profile of participants, rates and factors associated with the completion of the abstinence challenge, and outcomes and harm reduction benefits in participating in the challenges.


Discrimination and alcohol problems among heavy drinking HIV-positive men who have sex with men: the buffering effect of a brief Motivational Intervention to reduce alcohol use
The current study examined (a) whether MSM with HIV who experience greater identity-based discrimination reported higher levels of alcohol problems over time in the absence of alcohol intervention, and (b) whether motivational interviewing (MI) to reduce alcohol use would attenuate the effects of discrimination on alcohol problems.


How society’s understanding of addiction has changed over the centuries
Addiction psychiatrist Carl Erik Fisher’s new book, The Urge: Our History of Addiction, looks at how society’s understanding of addiction has changed over the centuries, and what that taught him about his own recovery.


Making the case for drug reform: Carlyn Zwarenstein’s On Opium
In the midst of the calls for change in drug policy, calls for safer supply, calls for human rights based care, Carlyn Zwarenstein’s On Opium: Pain, Pleasure, and Other Matters of Substance has appeared. No one who wants to understand non-medical use of drugs in this society should fail to read this book. Part memoir, part history of the lures of opium across the ages, part deep reflection about what it is to be a writer, part meditation on the meaning of pain, part plea for reform, the book takes readers by the hand and leads them gently (but firmly) on.


Gaps in hepatitis C virus prevention and care for HIV-hepatitis C virus co-infected people who inject drugs in Canada
Maximizing access to HCV prevention and treatment strategies are key steps towards elimination. These researchers aimed to evaluate engagement in harm reduction programs and HCV treatment, and to describe injection practices among HIV-HCV co-infected PWID in Canada from 2003 to 2019.


Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) uptake and adherence experiences of gay and bisexual men who engage in chemsex: A qualitative study
This research explored the ways in which chemsex influenced gay and bisexual men’s motivation to use, access to and effective use of PrEP.


Association Between Increased Dispensing of Opioid Agonist Therapy Take-Home Doses and Opioid Overdose and Treatment Interruption and Discontinuation
This research explored whether there was an association between dispensing of increased take-home doses and treatment retention or opioid-related harm among recipients of opioid agonist therapy (OAT) in Ontario during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Supervised consumption site enables cost savings by avoiding emergency services: a cost analysis study
In Calgary, Canada, ‘Safeworks Harm Reduction Program’ was established in late 2017 and offers 24/7 access to SCS. The facility is a nurse-led service, available for client drop-in. We conducted a cost analysis for the entire duration of the program from November 2017 to January 2020, a period of 2 years and 3 months.


The generative potential of mess in community-based participatory research with young people who use(d) drugs in Vancouver
In this paper, we reflect on a partnership that began in 2018 between three university researchers and roughly ten young people (ages 17–28) who have current or past experience with drug use and homelessness in Greater Vancouver. We focus on moments when our guiding principles of shared leadership, safety, and inclusion became fraught in practice, forcing us in some cases to re-imagine these principles, and in others to accept that certain ethical dilemmas in research can never be fully resolved.


In the News

Could Canada’s New Political Alliance Speed Drug Decriminalization?
March 24: The ruling Liberal Party under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the social democratic NDP (New Democratic Party) entered into a supply and confidence agreement on March 22. However, no mention of a private members bill put forwardin February appears in the agreement between the two parties. Trudeau has previously described decriminalization as “no silver bullet” for the overdose crisis.


BC Lost 207 People to Toxic Drugs in January
March 11: A new report from the BC Coroners Service confirms January is the fourth consecutive month with over 200 deaths recorded. Last year, 2,232 people lost their lives due to toxic drugs, and 1,767 died in 2020.The January death toll comes on the heels of a report that found British Columbia’s government has not responded to the crisis with the urgency or scale of resources required to prevent deaths.


BC Coroners Service Death Review Panel: A Review of Illicit Drug Toxicity Deaths
March 9: Illicit drug toxicity is the leading cause of unnatural death in the province, accounting for more deaths than homicides, suicides, motor vehicle incidents (MVIs), drownings and fire-related deaths combined. Deaths due to illicit drug toxicity are second only to cancers in terms of potential years of life lost in BC. Many of these deaths were preventable. Read the Death Review Panel’s recommendations to the province.


Overdose victims trending younger as drug supply grows ever more toxic, death review panel finds 
March 9: A new report from BC Coroners Service makes several recommendations, including ensuring a safer drug supply and having provincial ministries involved in the crisis develop 30-, 60- and 90-day action plans to provide better monitoring of how and why deaths are occurring.


‘Mostly ineffective’: B.C.’s safe supply program not meeting the need, say advocates
March 2: A nurse and safe supply advocate in B.C. says the provincial government’s safe supply program is failing to meet the needs of users whose lives are at risk from toxic drugs.


How Buying My Drugs Online Has Been Working for Me
March 2: Over the last year or so, I have been purchasing most of my supply of drugs—including fentanyl, cocaine, Xanax, MDMA and ketamine—through a single special vendor whom a friend of mine found online and shared with me. I find this to be more reliable and safer, in terms of avoiding criminalization as well as the quality of the drugs, than buying from different people in person.


San Francisco Hospital Program Offers Harm Reduction to Patients
February 24: In some hospitals in the United States, doctors will send people home with prescriptions for opioid use disorder medications like methadone and buprenorphine after they are discharged. But there is a severe general lack of harm reduction services in health care settings. A team of researchers and harm reduction advocates have been piloting a project at the San Francisco General Hospital in an attempt to address this.



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


Focus image by Andrew, Flickr (Creative Commons)