Substance Use News May 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 and information about alcohol use and harm reduction. 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

Parliament votes down Conservative motion against safe supply of drugs

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has failed to persuade the House of Commons to condemn the Liberal government’s approach to fighting drug addiction. In a vote of 209 to 113 today, MPs defeated a motion presented by Poilievre. It took aim at the federal government’s harm reduction policies but focused mainly on its decision to fund the supply of pharmaceutical alternatives as a replacement for certain illicit drugs.


Drug policy advocacy group Moms Stop the Harm wants meeting with Poilievre

The co-founder of a network of mothers whose children died of drug overdoses says she wants to speak with Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre about his opposition to prescribing a safer supply of opioids to those living with addiction. McBain said she plans to reach out to Poilievre again while in Ottawa this week, but remains doubtful about receiving a reply.


Take Part in Prescribed Safer Supply Study

The experiences of those accessing or attempting to access prescribed safer supply is incredibly valuable. University of Victoria researchers are hoping to connect people with lived experience to participate in their research study, “Evaluation of safer supply initiatives to reduce illicit drug overdose in BC.” People with lived and living experience are being asked to participate in this study because their insights help us to better understand the roll-out and delivery of prescribed safer supply across the province.


In BC, Alberta and around the world, forcing drug users into treatment is a violent policy

After years of housing unaffordability, an increasingly poisonous drug supply and inaccessible voluntary mental health supports, mainstream political parties in Canada — including Alberta’s United Conservative Party (UCP) as the May 29 provincial election approaches — are seemingly toying with the idea of making the people most affected by inequality and poverty simply disappear via involuntary institutionalization. The British Columbia NDP under David Eby, as well as Kevin Falcon’s BC United Party, have floated the idea of expanding forced institutionalization to include aspects of substance use.


BC nurses in recovery say punitive and dehumanizing return-to-work agreements derail their lives

“Claire” is one of an unknown but significant number of nurses in British Columbia who have entered into what experts say are harmful substance-use monitoring agreements with their employer or licensing body in order to keep their jobs. A coalition of nurses and experts is calling on the BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU) to pressure health authorities and the college to change the policies some experts say don’t help keep patients safe and actually push much-needed qualified nurses from the field.


As fentanyl deaths rise, US state legislatures resist harm reduction

The Biden administration is embracing healthcare efforts designed to reduce the deadly impact of fentanyl addiction — but many state legislatures are resisting the harm reduction approach.


A Day in the Life: A Paramedic in BC

“With the toxic drug supply we see overdose calls everywhere in the province. It can be in the Downtown Eastside and it can just as easily be behind a white picket fence in a small town.”  – Paramedic Brian Twaites, who has been on the job for 36 years.


SFU grad develops wearable harm reduction device

ODEN Health Solutions’ self-contained wearable device can be worn on a person’s arm for immediate feedback signs of an overdose. The device then notifies emergency services to be sent to the person’s location. CEO Alex McGovern’s goal is to see the device, now in its final phase of testing with the help of LifeGuard, available by early 2025.


Prescribed alcohol program in Halifax to add social activities after finding surprising side effect

“The goal isn’t necessarily sobriety. The goal is to make sure everybody’s safe,” said Ashton Stephenson, the health centre’s harm reduction manager who oversees a Halifax prescribed alcohol program.


The Republic of Ireland is set to introduce health warning labels on alcohol products

Labelling will warn consumers about the risks of drinking alcohol as well as providing a product’s calorie content and the number of grams of alcohol. The Irish government said the regulations would bring alcohol products into line with requirements for food packaging. Irish minister for health Stephen Donnelly said: “I welcome that we are the first country in the world to take this step and introduce comprehensive health labelling of alcohol products.


Viral response to alcohol guidelines highlights need for harm-reduction messaging

Existing research has shown that patients underreport their substance use due primarily to stigma around alcohol use. Patients do welcome screening about alcohol use, so long as it is done non-judgmentally.


Toxic drugs killing BC First Nations women at shocking rate, says FNHA

First Nations women in B.C. are over 11 times more likely to die from toxic drugs than other women in the province, according to recently released figures from BC’s First Nations Health Authority. First Nations Health Authority has shifted some of its opioid emphasis toward overdose prevention for women.


In BC Public Housing, Older Drug Users Denied Home Health Services

Inside supportive housing facilities in Kelowna, British Columbia, residents who use drugs reported that publicly funded health care services were often unavailable to them. In particular, older residents, most of whom are disabled, reported that visiting home health providers withheld care after they discovered signs of drug use. Residents rely on home visits for services related to palliative care, incontinence and bathing.


Will BC Towns’ Bylaws Undermine Drug Decriminalization Pilot?

Since the possession of small amounts of drugs was decriminalized on Jan. 31, some municipalities have looked at bans on public drug use that advocates warn undermine the provincial effort.


Cops say they’re being poisoned by fentanyl. Experts say the risk is ‘extremely low’

Reports of police suffering severe medical symptoms after touching or inhaling powdered fentanyl are common, occurring “every few weeks” around the U.S. according to experts, but many experts say these officers aren’t experiencing fentanyl or opioid overdoses.


Advocacy and Education

How psilocybin, the psychedelic in mushrooms, may rewire the brain to ease depression, anxiety and more

“Let’s be adults about this. These are no longer ‘shrooms.’ These are no longer party drugs for young people. Psilocybin mushrooms are nonaddictive, life-changing substances.”


“My Fear of Dying Was Erased”—the Call for End-of-Life Psilocybin Care

“For many people, their frustration and anger isn’t only directed at their disease, it’s the fact that their own government would rather they die through MAiD than give them access to the medicine that they need,” Therapsil founder Dr. Bruce Tobin told Filter. According to Tobin, increased psilocybin access for terminally ill patients would decrease the number of people seeking MAiD—opening the door for people who are currently choosing MAiD to be able instead to find peace at the end of their lives.


Considerations for alcohol withdrawal management 

In this episode of Addiction Practice Pod, Dr. Marcus Greatheart and David Ball talk with clinical nurse specialist Avee Khela about alcohol withdrawal management pathways, and we hear from Sandra Stewart on the importance of compassionate, non-judgemental care.


How a Comox Valley Project Is Confronting the Toxic Drug Crisis

Walk with Me takes a fittingly unique approach to education about and research on the toxic drug crisis, coming as it does from an art gallery. Participants are handed headsets, each connected to an old iPod Nano, to hear some of the stories that form the history of the toxic drug crisis. The project is based on Vancouver Island and most walks have happened there. It originated in the Comox Valley, where the toxic drug crisis often flies under the radar of more Vancouver-centric media and public discourse.


What kind of effect does opioid use disorder medication have on opioid cravings?

The aim of OAT is to replace the use of unregulated opioids with a safe and legal therapeutic medication that can prevent opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms. This can in turn reduce the risk of overdose and other potential harms of opioid use disorder but it is not meant for everyone. In addition to these treatments, we also need greater access to safe supply, which is defined as a legal and regulated supply of drugs with mind/body altering properties that traditionally have only been accessible through the illegal drug market.


Beyond stigma: Treating opioid use disorder

Imagine you fracture your arm and go to the emergency department, only to be told that you cannot receive appropriate pain medications to relieve your pain. How would that make you feel? It happens often. The low priority given to quality pain and substance use education in medical schools and the restrictive access to OATs are manifestations of stigma surrounding opioid use.


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.

Visit the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research site for research on aclohol and substance use.

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


Focus image by Andrew, Flickr (Creative Commons)