Substance Use News, June 2024

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 harm reduction. To get the latest toxic drug safety alerts, visit Info for People Who Use Substances page from Toward the Heart. Subscribe to our newsletter for information weekly- scroll to the bottom of the page to sign up. You can also visit our Substance Use and Harm Reduction page for more resources. 

In the News

US Supreme Court blocks Purdue Pharma bankruptcy deal

The US Supreme Court has struck down a part of the bankruptcy deal for Purdue Pharma that would have shielded members of the Sackler family from future lawsuits over their role in fuelling the opioid crisis. The Sacklers, who owned and operated the Oxycontin-maker for decades, had agreed to pay $6bn (£4.7bn) towards a wider settlement in exchange for sweeping protections against civil claims related to the addictive opioid. But the nation’s top court ruled that granting such protections to the Sacklers, who did not themselves declare bankruptcy was not authorised under law. (June 27, 2024)


To help ensure the end of AIDS, leaders need to move away from punitive approaches to people who use drugs

UNAIDS welcomes the recent report by Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health, which was presented to the 56th session of the UN Human Rights Council. The report, on Drug Use, Harm Reduction and the Right to Health, demonstrates the public health necessity of moving away from punitive approaches to people who use drugs. Three notable recommendations of the report are critical to ending AIDS as a public health threat: decriminalization of the possession of drugs for personal use; eEnsuring the availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality of harm reduction services for people who use drugs; and ensuring that peer-led initiatives have the necessary political and policy support and sufficient and stable resourcing. (June 26, 2024). Amnesty International responds in UN report must signal end to manifestly failed ‘war on drugs’.

Fact Checked: Four Claims on Drug Deaths

“Drug deaths are up by 380 per cent in BC,” Conservative MP Rachael Thomas posted on X. What she didn’t mention is that 380 per cent increase compares the number of BC drug deaths in 2015 with the 2023 total. For the record, over a similar period, drug deaths are up by 198 per cent in Alberta. And Thomas isn’t the only politician spinning the stats. This Tyee election report looks at claims, statistics, and potential conclusions. (June 21, 2024)


“Let’s Go After This Whole Thing”—DULF Challenges Criminal Charges

“The truth of this is that we’ve had people dying in huge numbers for eight years and the government hasn’t really done very much to stop that, they left it up to the community,” says Garth Mullins, one of the Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) co-founders. “But also, this is civil disobedience. This is how we got needle distribution in Vancouver, how we got InSite … by people doing these activities before they were permitted, not waiting for permission, and just going ahead. (June 20, 2024)


Involuntary drug treatment: ‘Compassionate intervention’ or policy dead end?

Alberta’s proposed involuntary treatment legislation, the “Compassionate Intervention Act,” also known as the “Compassionate Care Act,” would be the first involuntary treatment law in Canada to target addiction specifically for adults, and would allow a family member, doctor or police officer to petition a family court for a treatment order when “someone is a danger to themselves or others.” What little is currently known about the proposed legislation is all too familiar and raises concerns that coercing people into treatment won’t do anything to slow drug poisoning deaths. (June 19, 2024)


Nanaimo youth honoured with 2024 Youth Harm Reduction Award

Island Health has recognized three Nanaimo youth for their efforts to promote harm reduction awareness and training at their school, Learning Alternatives. “It’s inspiring to see these students taking initiative and working together to save lives and raise awareness of poisoned drugs in their community,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. (June 17, 204)


Drug Compassion Club Organizers Face Criminal Charges. What Now?

Lawyers for Eris Nyx and Jeremy Kalicum, the founders of a compassion club supplying tested heroin, meth and cocaine to users, say they were shocked prosecutors laid drug trafficking charges against the two while a related case is before the courts. DULF — the Drug Users Liberation Front — had applied to Health Canada for an exemption from Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in order to run the compassion club. The request was denied and DULF is challenging the decision in Federal Court. (June 11, 2024)


BC appoints advisor to improve care for people with complex mental-health, addiction challenges

The Province is taking action to improve care for a growing population with overlapping mental-health and addiction challenges and brain injuries from toxic-drug poisonings by appointing a chief scientific advisor to develop solutions to address their unique needs. An increasing number of people have acquired brain injuries after overdosing on synthetic opioids. Some may also have injuries from repeated toxic-drug poisonings. (June 5, 2024)


Advocacy, Education, and Research

Toxic Drug Crisis Data from First Nations Health Authority

The FNHA works closely with health partners to gather data about the impacts of the toxic drug supply on First Nations people in BC. Indigenous people who are not recognized as having First Nations status under the Indian Act are unfortunately not represented in this data. The FNHA is committed to working with provincial partners towards meaningful, systemic change that will make more inclusive data collection possible.


“In Sweden you are worthless. In Denmark you get an identity again” – on being perceived and received as a person who uses drugs in different drug policy settings

Policies to address substance use differ greatly between settings, where goals may range from zero-tolerance to harm reduction. Different approaches impact formats of care, policing, and even interpersonal interactions, and may play a role in the labelling and stigmatization of people who use drugs (PWUD). Where Sweden has a more restrictive policy, aiming to have a society free from drugs, Denmark has embraced harm reduction principles. The aim of this study was to explore PWUDs’ experiences of interpersonal interactions, policing, and service formats in the two countries.


“Painting the Full Picture”: A lens on the nuances behind 2SLGBTQIA+ youth substance use

Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and/or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, and other sexual and gender minority (2SLGBTQIA+) youth experience inequities in substance use. Research has historically emphasized the negative experiences and effects associated with using. Christian Barborini and Trevor Goodyear, two researchers from the BC Centre on Substance Use and the University of British Columbia, sought to explore the social context of queer youths’ substance use, including how it connects with place, identity, and community.


Is peer support a tipping point for the opioid use disorder crisis in Appalachia? 

The present commentary highlights the pressing need for systematic research to assess the implementation and effectiveness of medications for opioid use disorder, used in conjunction with peer recovery support services, to improve treatment outcomes for individuals with opioid use disorder in Central Appalachia. (June 25, 2024)


“If it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I would be here”: experiences of the first year of a safer supply program during the dual public health emergencies of COVID-19 and the drug toxicity crisis

This community-based participatory research study used a use six core components of safer supply programs identified by people who use drugs to explore participant perspectives on the first year of operations of a safer supply program in Victoria, BC, during the dual public health emergencies of COVID-19 and the drug toxicity crisis to examine whether the program met drug-user defined elements of an effective safer supply model. (June 7, 2024)


Implementing Canada’s first national virtual phone based overdose prevention service: lessons learned from creating the National Overdose Response Service (NORS)

The opioid epidemic remains one of the largest public health crises in North America to date. Calls for equitable access to harm reduction services for those who cannot or choose not to access in-person harm reduction services resulted in Canada’s National Overdose Response Service (NORS) a telephone based overdose response hotline and virtual supervised consumption service. NORS was established in collaboration with various agencies and people with lived and living experience of substance use (PWLLE). This paper explores the lessons learned from the establishment and continued operation of the service. (May 28, 2024)


Do Drugs Contain What We Think They Contain? Results from CUSP: The Community Urinalysis and Self-Report Project

There is often a disconnect between what drugs people think they are taking and what they are actually exposed to. This is a direct consequence of the unpredictable unregulated drug supply, and it increases the risk of harm to people who use drugs. The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) and the Community Urinalysis and Self-Report Project (CUSP) team are pleased to share with you an infographic showing the latest results from our CUSP study. In this study, we worked with local harm reduction organizations to ask clients what drugs they thought they took in the previous three days, analyzed their urine samples to see what drugs they actually consumed and compared the two measures to see whether they matched.


Walk With Me: reducing harm and confronting the toxic drug poisoning crisis in small British Columbia cities through community engaged research

This research paper looks at Walk With Me, a Vancouver Island project that seeks to understand the unique manifestations of the toxic drug poisoning crisis in small communities, identifying local harm reduction interventions that can foster community resilience, and aiming to catalyze sustainable change by amplifying the voices of those directly affected by the crisis to advocate for policy changes.  (May 31, 2024)


Estimating the total utilization of take home naloxone during an unregulated drug toxicity crisis

British Columbia (BC) Canada has a large take-home naloxone (THN) program, implemented as part of the provincial response to the ongoing toxic unregulated drug supply emergency. Ascertaining the rate of use of THN kits is vital to understanding the full impact of the program. However, this is a challenging problem due to under-reporting of kit distribution. This study aims to estimate the total number of THN kits used based on the number of THN kits shipped, the number of THN kits reported as distributed, and the number of THN kits reported as used. (June 2024)


Naturally Noncompliant

This is a new-ish podcast by and for people who are fighting for a safe supply of opioids in the United States. Methadone is the first frontier in this fight, and this show emphasizes the voices of patients and directly impacted people in that battle.


Harm Reduction for GBT2Q People who Use Drugs

The HIV Legal Network has released Connection, Care, Community, a pair of new resources aimed at challenging stigma and protecting the health of GBT2Q people who use drugs. There’s a Summary Report, which reviews the evidence about substance use and an Agenda for Action, which presents nearly 30 recommendations for action in multiple areas.



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)