Substance Use News, May 2022

Substance Use News provides a monthly collection of news and resources on the social, medical and political responses to the toxic drug supply crisis. Visit our Substance Use and Overdose Response page for more information on advocacy and resources. 

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 decriminalization plan won’t do much to stop toxic drug deaths, says chief coroner
The federal government framed its announcement that possession of small amounts of drugs will be decriminalized in BC as a major policy breakthrough, but for those close to the deadly drug crisis, the news has been met with skepticism. The skeptics include Lisa Lapointe, BC’s chief coroner and a vocal critic of the response to the crisis from all levels of government.


British Columbia Will Decriminalize Drug Possession
BC has consistently reported the highest fatal overdose rates of any Canadian province, suffering 2,224 suspected overdose deaths in 2021, as the CBC reported. While decriminalization does not directly address the adulterated supply of unregulated drugs, proponents have long argued that removing the fear of arrest facilitates access to harm reduction resources, in addition to reducing criminalization.


‘Mass poisoning crisis’: Canadians need to change how we talk about drug deaths, advocates say
“If we had poisoned lettuce that was contaminated with listeria or something, they would pull all of that out of the shop, there would be warnings … but because the substances that we use are unregulated, there’s not a regulatory response,” said Natasha Touesnard, the Halifax-based executive director of the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs. Touesnard is one of many advocates who say Canadians need to change the way we discuss drug use, as an average of 20 people die each day from toxic street drugs.


‘Here to model the way’: Little Salmon Carmacks FN seeks Indigenous-led solutions to substance use
It’s been a tough year for the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation. Chief Nicole Tom led the community as chief through part of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Yukon’s ongoing substance use crisis. The First Nation asked Martin Morberg, a Northern Tutchone and Tlingit member of the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation, to coordinate a week focused on health and wellness.


Coroners Service News Release on March 2022 Deaths from Toxic Drug Supply
Expedited toxicological testing continues to provide evidence of the drug supply͛s inconsistency and volatility. The detection rate for benzodiazepines, which rapidly increased from 15% of samples in July 2020 to 52% of results in January 2022, were detected in only 32% of tests conducted in March. However, the detection rate of fentanyl and its analogues continues to surge, with 94% of returned samples testing positive in March. Additionally, previously undetected substances such as flualprazolam are being found in increasing numbers of test results.


Another 165 British Columbians Killed by Toxic Drugs
Toxic drugs are now the leading cause of preventable deaths in B.C., and the rate of death is still double what it was when a public health emergency was declared in 2016.



Advocacy and Education

Is Canada Ready to Decriminalize Drugs?
Parliament is heading towards a vote on an NDP Private Member’s Bill on June 1 that would decriminalize drug possession for personal use, among other changes to address Canada’s overdose crisis. The Liberals have also proposed a bill that would amend the Controlled Drug and Substances Act. Garth Mullins of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users has been fighting for decriminalization for a long time as he’s watched friends die and get incarcerated. He talks about these two bills and his vision for healthy drug policy in Canada.


notes on a committee meeting
On May 16, the Chief Coroner of BC gave testimony to the Select Standing Committee on Health. The one thing that became very, very clear to us and we didn’t know — maybe you do know, but we sure didn’t — is that the treatment and recovery…. There is no evidence basis for that in this province. That’s quite shocking to people. Any of you could open a treatment and recovery centre.


Harm reduction calls to action from young people who use drugs on the streets of Vancouver and Lisbon
Vancouver, Canada, and Lisbon, Portugal, are both celebrated for their world-leading harm reduction policies and programs and regarded as models for other cities contending with the effects of increasing levels of drug use in the context of growing urban poverty. However, we challenge the notion that internationally celebrated places like Lisbon and Vancouver are meeting the harm reduction needs of young people who use drugs (YPWUD; referring here to individuals between the ages of 14 and 29). In particular, the needs of YPWUD in the context of unstable housing, homelessness, and ongoing poverty—a context which we summarize here as “street involvement”—are not being adequately met.


No, My Prescribed Opioid Use Was Not a “Relapse”
Society tends to view banned drugs and their use in binary terms. People who disclose drug use are instantly assumed to be addicted, regardless of whether they meet the diagnostic criteria for substance use disorder. The black-and-white thinking erases the complexity of reality. It ignores the fact that some 90 percent of illicit drug use is not problematic. The overdose crisis and fears of opioid addiction have been used to justify severe restrictions on prescribing for pain patients who rely on opioids. Never mind that only a tiny fraction of such patients ever struggle with their opioid use. This has caused great suffering.


Concerns with the recent rapid review of safer supply interventions
BC Centre on Substance Use researchers with expertise in reviewing methodologies undertook an assessment of a new “rapid review” produced for Alberta’s Select Special Committee to Examine Safe Supply. BCCSU reviewers used the AMSTAR (Assessing the Methodological Quality of Systematic Reviews) – a well-established measurement tool to assess the methodological quality of reviews of randomized and non-randomized research. The review was rated as being of “critically low quality”. Among the primary issues with the review is a flawed search strategy that resulted in a number of studies unrelated to safer supply being included, and a number of important and highly relevant studies being excluded. Beyond these methodological concerns, other issues are evident with this review, including the misrepresentation of study authors’ expertise, a lack of a public health perspective, and the failure to acknowledge the current state of safer supply research and other publicly available data.


Identifying behaviours for survival and wellness among people who use methamphetamine with opioids in British Columbia: a qualitative study 
This study aimed to identify behaviours for survival and wellness practiced by people who concurrently use methamphetamine and opioids. One-on-one semi-structured interviews were conducted by peer research assistants in person and by telephone. Thematic analysis was carried out to identify patterns in behaviours participants described as important to their safety in the context of concurrent use of methamphetamine and opioids.


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


Focus image by Andrew, Flickr (Creative Commons)