Substance Use News July 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 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. 


Webinars to Watch

Prescribed Safer Supply: Background and Busting Myths

Harm reduction is a foundational component of nursing practice. Harm reduction is a philosophy that has a set of core principles and values, such as justice, dignity, compassion and autonomy — that shape how we work. It involves policies, programmes and practices that aim primarily to reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences of the use of substances without necessarily reducing consumption. Join the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario to learn about the evidence around safer supply programs as part of a harm reduction approach and analyze the role of the nurse in this work. August 15th. 8:30 AM Pacific time.


Women’s experiences in injectable opioid agonist treatment programs in Vancouver, Canada

Research Spotlight Webinar: Injectable opioid agonist treatment (iOAT) has recently been expanded in some geographical contexts as part of a response to the escalating overdose crisis. The overdose crisis and drug treatment are shaped by complex gendered dynamics, including power differentials, violence, and social norms, that can adversely impact women’s experiences. August 21st, Noon Pacific time.


Understanding the impact: Safer Supply Program Models and Nursing Practice

Prescribed safer supply is a harm reduction approach that involves providing pharmaceutical grade drugs of known quantity and quality to people with opioid use disorder who are at high risk of overdose and other harms. This approach has become highly politicized with a lot of misinformation circulating in the media, despite proven positive impacts for people. Join the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario to learn about the evidence around safer supply programs as part of a harm reduction approach and analyze the role of the nurse in this work. August 22nd, 8:30 AM Pacific time.


In the News

‘This Is a Life or Death Facility and It Needs to Operate’

The City of Vancouver isn’t renewing the lease for a downtown overdose prevention site, despite the neighbourhood’s high rate of toxic drug deaths. This overdose prevention site, or OPS, is located in Vancouver’s City Centre neighbourhood at Helmcken and Seymour, just one block from the busy Granville strip. This neighbourhood has the second-highest overdose rate in the city after the Downtown Eastside according to Vancouver Coastal Health.


Decriminalization, safe supply already saving lives in BC, contrary to backlash claims: addictions Carolyn Bennett

BC’s chief coroner, provincial health officer and representative for children and youth have attempted to debunk concerns raised by federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, local elected officials and some addiction specialists in recent months that safe supply is “flooding” B.C. with drugs and worsening the toxic drug crisis. Bennett said Thursday she fears the “anecdotal” attacks, like Poilievre’s defeated motion in the House of Commons to pull funding from harm reduction like safe supply, discourage people from accessing life-saving harm reduction.


Mothers in recovery are reuniting with their children, thanks to housing designed to help

Serenity and her mom have a two-bedroom apartment in the Union Gospel Mission’s Women and Family’s Centre, a seven-storey building with 63 units of supportive housing for women, 33 of which are designed especially for mothers in recovery and their children. The centre has a rooftop play area for children staying with recovering mothers, as well as day care and after-school care.


Toxic Drugs Killed 184 British Columbians in June

More than 1,000 people died from overdoses this year. That’s more than the population of Ashcroft. The BC Coroners Service said expedited drug testing found that fentanyl and/or fentanyl analogues were involved in 90 per cent of the fatalities. Three-quarters of the tests found the additional presence of a stimulant.


Prince George has one of the highest overdose death rates in BC. It just lost a supervised consumption site

The POUNDS Project, a non-profit group based in Prince George, is run primarily by peer support workers who have experience with addiction. It has been operating its drop-in supervised consumption site downtown “on a shoestring” over the past five years, according to executive director Jordan Stewart. Initially opened in 2018 with a grant from the province, POUNDS announced its closure on social media, saying it hopes the closure is temporary as its leadership works out a more sustainable funding model.


Australian decision to allow psychedelic drug prescriptions criticised by mental health experts

As of July 1, 2023, authorized psychiatrists have been able to prescribe medicines containing psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression, and MDMA for post-traumatic stress disorder. The decision by the Therapeutic Goods Administration followed public consultation, a report from an expert panel and advice received from a medicine advisory committee. Critics of the decision wrote that it is still unclear what kind of care needs to be delivered alongside the psychedelic dosing to ensure ongoing benefit; what the long-term safety profile of the drugs are, especially in terms of psychological recovery and relapse; and how to differentiate those patients who may benefit from those for whom it could be detrimental.


No evidence decriminalization has led to increase in public drug use: BC addictions minister

BC’s minister of mental health and addictions says there’s no evidence suggesting decriminalization has led to an increase in the consumption of illicit drugs in public spaces. BC Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jennifer Whiteside held a series of meetings with politicians, harm-reduction organizations and local stakeholders in Nelson in early July to address community concerns about public drug use.


Advocacy and Education

How should we handle the toxic drug-supply crisis? Experts weigh in

Recent news coverage has highlighted the deepening divide in the politics of the toxic drug-supply crisis. While political debates have muddied the water on effective policy options to address toxic drug deaths, the folks at Healthy Debate asked a panel of experts what they see as the best path forward to address the ongoing crisis.


Canadian Drug Policy Coalition releases findings of first-of-its-kind qualitative research on safe supply of drugs

Imagine Safe Supply is a community-based research project that explores ideas about participation in safe supply. Between January and June of 2021, we interviewed 33 people who use drugs and frontline workers from across British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec about what they want and need for safe supply.


Indigenous wisdom meets Western medicine at this psychedelic therapy centre

Roots to Thrive, in partnership with VIU, launched the Naut sa mawt Centre for Psychedelic Research earlier this year. It is the first of its kind in Canada, and is working with universities across the country to advance the field of psychedelic-assisted therapy. Emmy Manson is part of efforts to “decolonize” and “democratize” psychedelic-assisted therapy by making it available, in a supportive and authentic way, to her community. That means building relationships with Indigenous communities to learn from them and find ways to adapt those learnings so they are appropriate for a Western medicine setting.


An Update on Xylazine in the Unregulated Drug Supply: Harms and Public Health Responses in Canada and the United States

The purpose of this bulletin is to inform public health professionals, policy makers and people who use drugs about the presence and harms of xylazine in the unregulated supply. This is to align action with evidence and centre public health goals.


New device to prevent overdose deaths in supportive housing launches in BC

Jamie Sinclair is spearheading the launch of LifeguardLite, a new device being installed in more than 2,000 SROs and supportive housing units across British Columbia in an effort to save lives during the province’s escalating toxic drug crisis.


Is safer supply a realistic way to treat drug addiction?

The point of safer supply is to provide people with drugs that are substantially less likely to kill them. Prescribing drugs under safer supply is also far less expensive than the cost of operating rehabilitation programs and facilities for those using dangerous street drugs.


The Right-Wing Backlash to Harm Reduction in Canada

What seem like spontaneous reactions and inadequate education are increasingly arising from the larger anti-progressive movement that specializes in disinformation and is eager to find a way to be partisan about everything. Another line of thinking: At the bottom of this, it isn’t really a debate about the pros and cons of harm reduction at all. Some Canadian harm reductionists have begun looking into the links between would-be privatizers of Canada’s public health care systems, right-wing influencers and movements across North America, and government or political party workers on the Canadian right who benefit financially from private addiction clinics and services.


Access to Prescription Opioids May Reduce Overdose Deaths

“When access to prescription opioids is heavily restricted, people will seek out opioids that are unregulated,” says Grant Victor, an assistant professor in the Rutgers School of Social Work and lead author of a new study in the Journal of Substance Use and Addiction Treatment. “The opposite may also be true; our findings suggest that restoring easier access to opioid pain medications may protect against fatal overdoses.”


Alcohol harm reduction and managed alcohol programs

The latest episode from Addiciton Practice Pod features information on the purpose of managed alcohol programs and how they fit into the continuum of care for alcohol use disorder.


BC Coroners Service Reports on on Illicit Drug Toxicity Deaths in BC to June 30, 2023


Drug Checking in British Columbia- stats for May 2023

Each month, the BC Centreon Substance Use (BCCSU) publishes reports that summarize drug checking results collected by our partners around the province. These results are used by provincial health authorities and other community partners to help monitor the drug market and increase public awareness about what’s in the drug supply.


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 care and harm reduction.

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)