Substance Use News: December 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. Info for People Who Use Substances: get the latest alerts, and tips on how to stay safe from Toward the Heart. Visit our Substance Use and Harm Reduction page for more resources. 


In the News

‘We Need More Urgency’: BC’s New Drug Crisis Minister

The new minister tasked with addressing British Columbia’s mounting toxic drug crisis said the province needs to act with more urgency to save lives, but was vague on contentious measures such as expanding the safe supply of drugs or imposing treatment on some users. Jennifer Whiteside’s mandate letter includes expanding safe supply efforts, but she did not say what an ideal safe supply program would look like to her or where BC could improve.


Island Health launches text alert system for drug-poisoning advisories

People can now be alerted via text message about drug-poisoning advisories in the Island Health region thanks to an innovative partnership. Anyone can join the system anonymously by texting JOIN to 253787, and subscribers will receive text alerts when Island Health distributes drug-poisoning overdose advisories to specific regions.


Bennett: There’s no path to addiction recovery for people who are dead

While his latest op-ed shows some walking back from his views on addiction and people who use drugs, Pierre Poilievre’s insistence on pitting harm-reduction measures like safer supply against recovery completely misses the point. We need both, in order to save lives. In order to truly help people, we have to provide them with the full continuum of supports they need along their journey, including harm reduction, in addition to a range of evidence-based treatment options. This is what “meeting people where they are” is all about.


Joint Statement from the Co-Chairs of the Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses – Latest National Data on Substance-Related Harms

On December 14, 2022, the co-chairs of the federal, provincial and territorial Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses—Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, and Dr. Yves Léger, New Brunswick’s Acting Chief Medical Officer of Health—issued a statement on the release of the latest surveillance data on opioid- and stimulant-related harms in Canada from January 2016 to June 2022, and modelling projections on opioid-related deaths through to June 2023. Read the statement and more.


Mapping Where Overdoses Are More Likely to Kill

Someone living in rural British Columbia who experiences a drug poisoning is 30 per cent more likely to die than someone who experiences one in a city, new research from the BC Centre for Disease Control suggests. In some of the most remote areas, the fatality rate is up to 50 per cent greater than large city-dwellers. Read the study.


Association of Opioid and Stimulant Use Disorder Diagnoses With Fatal and Nonfatal Overdose Among People With a History of Incarceration

What is the association between opioid and/or stimulant use disorder diagnoses and fatal and nonfatal overdose among people with a history of incarceration? Findings In this cohort study of 6816 individuals with a history of incarceration, people with both opioid and stimulant use disorder diagnoses had approximately 2.5 times the hazard of overdose compared with people with no substance use disorder diagnoses. Stimulant use disorder alone was associated with a similar hazard of fatal overdose as opioid use disorder alone.


New research identifies a key molecular link between opioid withdrawal and social aversion in the brains of mice

The acute physical illness characterizing opioid withdrawal is tough enough to endure even with full family, community, and medical support—so it is a brutal and sometimes deadly irony that one of withdrawal’s salient symptoms is extreme social aversion. “Self-isolation can cause addicted people to drop out of recovery programs, to get into conflicts, and to pull away from family and other social support networks that could help them to remain abstinent,” says Stanford University psychiatry professor Keith Humphreys. The new research from the lab of Stanford neuroscientist Robert Malenka suggests the potential to help people in recovery from opioid addiction reconnect with their social support networks.


Managed Alcohol Programs Offer Harm Reduction to Unhoused People

Project Autochones du Québec is an Indigenous-led organization that supports First Nations, Inuit and Métis people facing housing insecurity in Montreal. The organization uses a “culturally adapted approach based on empowerment and harm reduction.”


Advocacy and Education


Many first responders struggle with PTSD. Limited research suggests psychedelics may help

Ketamine helped one police officer get through a childhood trauma. Some experts say psychedelics could help people with PTSD but much more research is needed.


Men in trades: the opioid overdose crisis in Canada

The “Ease the Burden Campaign” is aimed at men working in trades, who are more impacted by substance use and addiction than any other industry. Men experience the highest rates of opioid overdoses in Canada. Trades workers are more impacted by substance use and addiction than other fields of work.


Mobile Safer Supply Programs – Meeting People Where They Are At

If you missed this webinar when it was live, it’s now available to take in on-demand. Learn about Mobile Safer Supply Program Models through the experiences of teams at Toronto and London Community Health Centres. These programs aim to meet people where they are at and offer low barrier access to safer supply and primary care.


INHSU 2022: Global perspectives on the health of people who use drugs

CATIE attended the 10th International Conference on Health and Hepatitis Care in Substance Users, INHSU 2022, in Glasgow, Scotland. INHSU 2022 is the leading international conference on hepatitis C and the health of people who use drugs.


Fear, Loathing, and Fentanyl Misinformation

The “fentanyl exposure” myth has dominated headlines more than anything else: people claiming to have experienced “overdoses” from touching unknown powders that they believe to be fentanyl or from simply being in close proximity to some substance they believe to be fentanyl — even when it turns out not to be fentanyl. This myth — a scientific impossibility — has led to a reduced or delayed response to real fentanyl overdoses where time is critical.


Inside the battle to save the sacred peyote ceremony: ‘We’re in dire straits’

Leaders of the Native American Church of North America (Nacna) made a historic trip to Washington DC to meet with lawmakers about the need to protect peyote – and, with it, the faith of hundreds of thousands of Native people. Root plowing, a widespread practice that not only removes the peyote cactus but destroys its chance of regrowth, is now endangering a sacred Indigenous practice dating back at least 6,000 years.


Inability to contact opioid agonist therapy prescribers during the COVID-19 pandemic in a Canadian setting: a cross-sectional analysis among people on opioid agonist therapy

The COVID-19 pandemic and consequent public health response may have undermined key responses to the protracted drug poisoning crisis, including reduced access to opioid agonist therapy (OAT) among people with opioid use disorder. Our study objectives were to estimate the prevalence of and identify factors associated with inability to contact OAT prescribers when in need among people on OAT in a Canadian setting during the dual public health crises.


How one artist took on the Sacklers and shook their reputation in the art world

Photographer Nan Goldin raged over the prescription opioid epidemic that derailed her life and killed tens of thousands of Americans. “I’ve never seen such an abuse of justice,” Goldin told me. She was talking about members of the Sackler family, who own Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin. Goldin was one of the earliest American artists to take on the AIDS epidemic, mounting a show in the late 1980s that drew national attention and controversy. After reading about the Sacklers’ role pushing Oxycontin sales in a groundbreaking article in The New Yorker, Goldin decided to challenge their carefully curated public image as enlightened philanthropists.


Visit the BC Centre for Disease Control’s Unregulated Drug Poisoning Emergency Dashboard for provincial data from different sources.

Visit the BC Centre on Substance Use for information on evidence-based approaches to substance use and addiction.

Visit the National Safer Supply Community of Practice (NSS-CoP), whose goal is to scale up safer supply programs across Canada.


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



Focus image by Andrew, Flickr (Creative Commons)