Substance Use News October 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. Please check Info for People Who Use Substances to get the latest alerts, and tips on how to stay safe from Toward the Heart. New to this work? Visit our Substance Use and Harm Reduction page for more resources. 


In the News

Nationwide Support Rallies as Vancouver Police Target Safe Drug Supply Program- Add Your Signature

PAN has added our name to a letter calling out actions against the Drug User Liberation Front and we encourage our member groups to consider doing so as well. In response to the Vancouver Police Press Release, “VPD executes search warrants in Downtown Eastside drug investigation”, the letter is addressed to the Vancouver Police Department, the City of Vancouver, and the Province of British Columbia: “The signatories of this letter condemn the criminalization of community-regulated safe drug supply distribution in Vancouver on October 25, 2023, executed through search warrants, arrests and interrogations by Vancouver Police Department. The statement issued by Vancouver Police on October 26, 2023 is an apparent attempt to distance governments and police from the active and passive roles that each have played in DULF’s activities while political backlash builds against safe supply more broadly. (October 27, 2023)


Province says access to addiction treatment will help people on Vancouver Island

People with addiction challenges now have better access to treatment and recovery options closer to home, with 40 more publicly funded substance-use treatment beds throughout Vancouver Island. No-charge access to these treatment beds is supported by $8 million in provincial funding annually. With oversight and referral pathways provided by Island Health, it is estimated these beds will help approximately 200 people access treatment every year.(October 26, 2023)


Health expert says pandemic isolation contributed to spike in BC overdose deaths

“After five years of telling people not to use alone, we told an entire population not to be with each other,” Dr. Reka Gustafson, chief medical health officer for Island Health, told about 300 addiction experts meeting in Victoria on Thursday. she said during an opening address at the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine conference. “That has had profound societal impact we are still dealing with,” she said. B.C.’s overdose death rate is now two times higher than it was when the province declared a public health emergency in 2016. (October 19, 2023)


This boy died after taking drugs he got on Snapchat. Now his parents are suing

Sam Chapman and his wife, Laura Berman, are among dozens of U.S. parents suing Snapchat’s parent company, Snap Inc., saying their children died from tainted drugs purchased through the platform. Chapman’s lawsuit is one of five filed against Snap Inc., by the Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVC) on behalf of 65 grieving parents. The suit alleges that, because of built-in features like disappearing messages, drug sales to minors on this platform were, “the foreseeable result of the designs, structures and policies Snap chose to implement to increase its revenues.” (October 19, 2023)


After Purdue Pharma lawsuit, competitors swooped in

Study coauthor David Tan says “Unfortunately, I think, rather than serve as a warning to the rest of the industry, this lawsuit created an opportunity for competitors by weakening Purdue’s marketing grasp over its lucrative OxyContin prescribers.” (October 17, 2023)


Outcomes associated with nonmedical cannabis legalization policy in Canada: taking stock at the 5-year mark

In October 2018, recreational use of cannabis was legalized in Canada with the primary objectives of improving cannabis-related public health and safety, reducing youth access to cannabis, and reducing cannabis-related crime and illegal markets. Five years after policy implementation, available evidence suggests that outcomes related to health — such as the prevalence of cannabis use, cannabis-related emergency department visits and admissions to hospital and cannabis-impaired driving — have mostly increased or remained steady. (October 10, 2023)


BC introduces bill to ban illicit drug use in many public spaces

The BC government has tabled new legislation that would ban illegal drug use in many public places, less than a year into a decriminalization pilot project meant to de-stigmatize drug users. Corey Ranger, president of the Harm Reduction Nurses Association said he is “disappointed but not surprised” by what he describes as a “complete walkback” in the province’s decriminalization policy. (October 4, 2023)


Smoking, Not Injecting, Now Linked to Two-Thirds of BC Overdose Deaths

Amid a mass exodus from injecting drugs to smoking them, the push for safe consumption sites (SCS) in North America has yet to fully mobilize around safe inhalation spaces. According to data from the British Columbia Coroners Service, 65 percent of unregulated drug deaths recorded from January 2023 through the end of August were linked to smoking. Injecting was linked to 15 percent of deaths, and snorting/sniffing to 14 percent. CBC reported that Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe described the urgent need for SCS as including “a safe place to smoke drugs.” (October 2, 2023)


Advocacy and Education

Loyalist College given Health Canada nod for psilocybin research

Loyalist College is the first college in Canada to receive a Controlled Drugs and Substances licence from Health Canada for psilocybin research. The Government of Canada is making substantial investments to explore the potential benefits of psilocybin, the active compound found in “magic mushrooms,” in therapeutic contexts.


Peer-led safer supply and opioid agonist treatment medication distribution: a case study from rural British Columbia

This paper outlines a peer-led program focused on opioid agonist treatment and prescribed safe supply medication delivery that began in March 2020 at a clinic in rural BC. The peer takes an Indigenous harm reduction approach and is focused on meeting the needs of the whole person.


Researchers examine links between drug toxicity and brain injury in British Columbia

Brain injury can occur when there is a lack of oxygen to the brain. One way that this may occur is during an opioid-related drug toxicity event (also called an overdose), as people’s breathing is reduced or stopped. This study suggests that brain injury is more likely among people who have experienced a drug toxicity event compared to those who have not. Brain injuries due to drug toxicity events can impact people’s memory, speech, vision, ability to concentrate, ability to control behaviour and movement and other abilities.


Canadian guideline for the clinical management of high-risk drinking and alcohol use disorder

The guideline includes 15 recommendations that cover screening, diagnosis, withdrawal management and ongoing treatment, including psychosocial treatment interventions, pharmacotherapies and community-based programs. The guideline committee identified a need to emphasize both underused interventions that may be beneficial and common prescribing and other practice patterns that are not evidence based and that may potentially worsen alcohol use outcomes.


Reducing the harms of xylazine: clinical approaches, research deficits, and public health context

Xylazine has emerged as a consistent part of the unregulated drug supply in recent months. We discuss major domains of xylazine’s harm, current knowledge deficits, clinical and harm reduction strategies for minimizing harm, and xylazine’s public health and policy context. As an interdisciplinary team from across the USA, we have pooled our knowledge to provide an overview of xylazine’s current and emerging contexts.


Depressive symptoms and the age of initiation of tobacco and marijuana use among adolescents and young adults

Studies have demonstrated important associations between depressive symptoms and tobacco and marijuana use. However, to date, it is unknown if depressive symptoms predispose youth to tobacco and marijuana use at earlier ages over time.


Study Shows Selling Tested Drugs Saves Lives

A compassion club in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside that has been breaking the law in order to protect its members has proof its harm reduction initiative is working. Last week the Drug User Liberation Front published a study based on its first year of operation that found quality of life improved for many of its users, with people reporting fewer overdoses and negative interactions with police, less hospitalization and less drug-related violence.

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)