Substance Use News April 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 HeartVisit our Substance Use and Harm Reduction page for more resources. 


In the News

Harm reduction advocate being mourned after likely drug overdose

A harm reduction advocate who founded an organization to support people battling drug addiction is being mourned after being found unresponsive in a Metro Vancouver hotel room. Patrick Evans established the East Kootenay Network of People Who Use Drugs (EKNPUD) in September 2020. The non-profit organization remains active, mainly in the communities of Kimberley and Cranbrook, roughly 800 kilometres east of Vancouver.


FNHA Releases 2022 Toxic Drug Poisoning Crisis Data

​Coast Salish Territory (Vancouver) – The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) is releasing First Nations-specific data for toxic drug poisoning events in 2022, data that shows First Nations people remain disproportionately impacted, even seven years after British Columbia (BC) declared its province-wide public health emergency on illicit toxic drugs.


Northern First Nation won’t extend ‘dry’ policy after ‘very negative aspects’ surface during brief experiment

A northern Manitoba First Nation’s brief experiment with a “dry” policy has come to a close with mixed opinions in the community and concerns over unintended side effects, such as driving people to consume more harmful substances.


Supervised inhalation sites take surprising forms in BC amid challenges setting them up

While some inhalation sites might look unusual, they are saving lives, despite the financial and bureaucratic challenges setting them up.


7 years after BC declared health emergency, toxic drug crisis creating new challenges

“How are you [paramedics] dealing with this increase in overdose calls?” Paramedic spokesperson Brian Twaites talks about how street drugs have changed.


Advocates want more from the province as BC marks 7 years of the toxic drug emergency

Michelle Eliot spoke to advocates Jess Lamb and Leslie McBain, as well as Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside.


Joint statement on seven-year anniversary of toxic drug public-health emergency

Premier David Eby; Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions; and Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, issued a statement on April 14, 2023, the seven-year anniversary of toxic drug-related overdoses being declared a public-health emergency in British Columbia. We mourn with each and every British Columbian who has lost a loved one, family member or friend to this crisis. Each loss is devasting to our communities. We deepen our resolve to save lives and improve lives, even as the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts have made the drug supply even more toxic for people in our province.


Counting the Cost of Substance Use — and Finding Solutions

Harms from substance use cost Canada $49 billion in 2020, with almost two-thirds of that linked to alcohol and tobacco use, according to the Canadian Substance Use Costs and Harms report with collected data from 2007 to 2020. The recent report found the highest rate of increases in costs was due to opioids and stimulants, like methamphetamine, with the toxic drug supply killing more and more young people and becoming more dangerous during the pandemic.


Dangerous ‘tranq dope’ detected in Alberta as supply spreads across North America

Over the past few years, Health Canada has been tracking the spread of xylazine, an animal tranquilizer, in the country’s street drugs. Informally, it’s often referred to as “tranq dope” or just the “zombie drug.” Its effects cannot be reversed by naloxone, the life-saving, overdose-reversal medication, making an already deadly opioid crisis even more dire.


Fentanyl Cut With Xylazine Designated “Emerging Threat” by Feds

On April 12, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) formally designated xylazine, in combination with fentanyl, an “emerging threat.” It marks the first time a US administration has singled out an illicit drug—or in this case, a mix of two—in this way. It also means xylazine is about to become much more heavily surveilled.



Advocacy and Education

Cisgender men’s drinking tied to fetal alcohol syndrome 

Research investigating fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) exclusively examines maternal alcohol exposure. However, because men drink more and are more likely to binge drink than women, Michael Golding and his team set out to challenge the existing dogma and stigma.


Polysubstance use during pregnancy: the importance of screening, patient education, and integrating a harm reduction perspective

One in five individuals who reported use of any substance during pregnancy engaged in polysubstance use, highlighting the importance of comprehensive screening and evidence-based interventions including harm reduction.


Substance Use Patterns and Safer Supply Preferences Among People Who Use Drugs in British Columbia

This report presents the findings of a multiyear study which aimed to understand the needs and preferences of people who use drugs from the illegal market and safer supply.


Here’s how parents can prevent their teens from drinking too much

Letting kids try small amounts of alcohol at home to learn moderation may backfire, substance-use experts say.


Healing Indigenous Hearts

The Healing Indigenous Hearts Facilitators’ Guidebook was developed for Indigenous – First Nations, Inuit and Metis people who have lost loved ones as a result of substance-use-related causes – and wish to facilitate a support group with other Indigenous people who have suffered this kind of loss.


Safer opioid supply: qualitative program evaluation

As the overdose crisis in Canada continues to escalate in severity, Safer Supply programs offer pharmaceutical-grade medication to people who use drugs to replace and decrease harms related to the toxic illicit drug supply. Given the paucity of research surrounding these programs, researchers sought to better understand the experience of being part of a Safer Supply program from the perspective of current participants.


Three important things to know about hepatitis C and HIV among people who inject drugs

In Canada, recent estimates show that people who inject drugs continue to be disproportionately affected by high rates of hepatitis C and HIV. They are also less likely to be tested, connected to care or receive treatment. To prevent hepatitis C and HIV, as well as improve outcomes for people who inject drugs, it is important to gain a better understanding of how changes in the drug supply and related trends impact vulnerability to these infections and how we can improve supports.


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)