Substance Use News, February 2023


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

BC Budget Focuses on Increasing Treatment Options in Drug Crisis

The BC Budget announced on February 28 is largely silent on expanding provisions some public health experts have repeatedly called for, like safe supply and more overdose prevention sites, to protect people before they access treatment or in the event they never wish to.


Decriminalization: The Facts

This information sheet from First Nations Health Authority breaks down some myths, about what decriminalization is and isn’t. “Decriminalization alone won’t solve the toxic drug crisis, but together with harm reduction strategies, treatment and recovery options, overdose prevention, community-based initiatives, and systems of support, decriminalization will help save lives and relationships.”


Drug Decriminalization in British Columbia – Know Your Rights

To ensure people in BC know when they are and are not protected by BC’s decriminalization policy, Pivot Legal Society has created a printable Know Your Rights Card with friends at the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU). If you’re a person who uses drugs (or a drug user-led group), feel free to contact Pivot Legal for some hardcopy cards.


Some Exceptions Apply

“BC just decriminalized drugs. Well sort of. For the next three years, it’s legal to carry 2.5 grams or less of certain illicit drugs. But some exemptions apply. We’ve been fighting for decrim for decades. The goal has always been to stop arrests and get cops out of our lives.”


First Nations women overrepresented among BC toxic drug deaths: doctor

Indigenous people, especially women, are dying from toxic drugs at disproportionately high rates in British Columbia as the overdose crisis continues “unabated,” nearly seven years after the province first declared a public health emergency, said the top doctor for the First Nations Health Authority. Dr. Nel Wieman, the acting chief medical officer, said illicit drugs are killing First Nations people at five times the rate of BC’s general population.


Men in the trades are dying of drug poisoning

Workers say isolation, lifestyle and physicality of the job pushes some to drug use. “With the trades, there’s a lot of hard work and physical work where you’re sore and tired and in pain, and you have to be able to get up and go to work the next day and do it all over again.”


Why one researcher dubs drug decriminalization in BC an ‘exciting’, if flawed, experiment

Researchers like Lindsey Richardson are eager to uncover just how decriminalization of people who use drugs might influence the well-being of users. “When we criminalize people who use drugs, we produce interactions with the criminal justice system that have negative impacts, and so that includes the actual impact of being incarcerated, but there are also social and economic impacts,” she said. “It can affect people’s housing, their employment, their family, their health.


Advocacy and Education

PAN Letter to Minister Dix regarding access to diacetylmorphine and Heroin-Assisted Treatment

On February 23rd, PAN sent a letter (below) to the Honourable Adrian Dix, Minister of Health outlining a call to immediately expand access to Diacetylmorphine (DAM) / Heroin Assisted Treatment (HAT) and other flexible prescribed safer supply (PSS) initiatives for people who use opioids. The letter was developed in consultation with the Coalition of Substance Users of the North (CSUN) and other PAN members on the frontline of the drug poisoning crisis, key experts, and people with lived and living experience. Despite the evidence showing improved health outcomes of HAT, and that it can save lives, today it is available to only a few hundred people in BC. We urgently call on the Minister to expand the Safe Supply program to include access to inhalable and injectable DAM throughout the province.


Indigenous advocates call for more culturally informed addictions treatment in BC

Avis O’Brien (N’alaga) creates addictions programming for treatment centres rooted in Indigenous knowledge and healing. Her programs fill a gap she felt was missing when she was starting recovery. “There was no access to elders, there was no cultural teachings, no land-based healing. It just did not exist,” O’Brien said. Examining statistics from the BC Coroners Service, First Nations Health Authority reports First Nations people were dying from illicit drug toxicity at five times the rate of BC’s general population. For First Nations women specifically, compared with non-Indigenous women in the province in the first half of 2022, the rate was 8.8 times higher.

BC Substance Use Conference 2023

The BC Centre on Substance Use’s 5th annual BC Substance Use Conference will be held April 20–22, 2023. To enable provincial-wide participation, the BCCSU will be hosting a blended conference this year, with both virtual and in-person options for attendance. The in-person program will be held at the JW Marriott Parq in what’s colonially called Vancouver. The conference theme this year is The Challenge of Change. Learn more


We Need Harm Reduction Built for and Led by Youth Who Use Drugs

Instead of addressing structural oppression, abstinence-based and top-down institutional approaches to treatment and care can actually make it worse. Yet for youth in particular, these remain the default. We know that harm reduction saves lives. It can also build lives and communities of care, including among young people who become involved in harm reduction organizing and activism.


Decriminalizing hard drugs in BC will help reduce the stigma of substance abuse*

A recent study found that nearly half of respondents reported perceiving stigma because of their addiction from friends and family, from work colleagues and even from medical providers. In some cases, fear of negative opinions from people in their social circles is one reason people who know they need help with substance use do not pursue treatment.
* (sic)

Associations between Early Childhood Adversity and Behavioral, Substance Use, and Academic Outcomes in Childhood through Adolescence in a US Longitudinal Cohort

Childhood adversity is strongly associated with adolescent substance use, but few epidemiologic studies have investigated early childhood adversity (ECA) before age 5. This study investigated pathways by which ECA is associated with adolescent alcohol and cannabis use and high school completion through childhood behavioral and academic mediators and their reciprocal effects.


Need for integration of hepatitis C (HCV) services in community-based settings for people who inject drugs

To inform the development of updated World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on simplified service delivery for HCV infection, a global survey was undertaken among people affected or infected by HCV. The objective of this analysis is to identify specific needs and preferences among people who inject drugs.


Why an Alberta lawyer is pushing back on part of the province’s new addictions strategy

The provincial government of Alberta has changed the rules around who can prescribe high-potency, short-acting opioids like the hydromorphone Ophelia Black uses, so she has sued the province.


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)