Needles are seen on the ground in Oppenheimer park in Vancouver’s downtown eastside on March 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Needles are seen on the ground in Oppenheimer park in Vancouver’s downtown eastside on March 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Federal government provides $15 million for safer drug pilot programs in B.C.

Some addiction doctors have criticized the lack of safer drugs for those experiencing entrenched addiction

Four pilot projects in Vancouver and Victoria have received $15 million in federal funding to provide safer drugs for people at risk of dying from overdose as British Columbia faces a record number of annual fatalities.

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson joined Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, and MP Hedy Fry to announce the funding on Monday.

They said more people are using drugs alone without anyone to help them if they overdose, which is an unforeseen consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, while locally produced substances with extreme concentrations of fentanyl have replaced drugs that are not available due to border closures.

Malcolmson said 23,000 people are getting substitute prescription medication, a 395 per cent increase since March, as registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses are trained to provide legal alternatives as part of an order last September by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

“The fact that we still have people dying of overdose is absolutely an indication that we still have work to do, but British Columbia’s leading the way in the country,” she said.

The coroners service has not yet released data on the number of overdose deaths in 2020, but the number of annual deaths is expected to exceed the previous provincial record of 1,549 fatalities in 2018.

New programs expected to start in the spring will be implemented through Vancouver Coastal Health, AIDS Vancouver Island Health and Community Services, the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the Urban Indigenous Health and Healing Cooperative.

The programs in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside will be near existing services including overdose prevention sites, a supervised injection site and a unique program that provides medical-grade heroin to entrenched users.

Vancouver Coastal Health will expand peer support initiatives and allow drug users to take prescription alternatives home rather than consuming them at clinics, Daly said, adding visits to overdose prevention and supervised consumption facilities have plummeted during the pandemic.

“Even with all the good work of our teams on the ground who encourage people to come to overdose prevention sites, we’re still only seeing about 60 to 70 per cent of the visits that we saw prior to the pandemic,” she said.

Hydromorphone, methadone and suboxone are among the prescribed medications being offered, and medical-grade heroin is provided at North America’s only clinic for people who have tried multiple programs to battle heroin addictions.

Some addiction doctors have criticized the lack of safer drugs for those experiencing entrenched addiction, with calls for Health Canada to allow for domestic production of medical-grade heroin that is currently exported from Switzerland.

READ MORE: Vancouver mayor, Health Canada to formally discuss drug decriminalization

Fry said the federal government is working to create a homegrown supply of prescription heroin and the government is also considering a proposal from the City of Vancouver to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use.

Guy Felicella, a peer clinical adviser with the Overdose Emergency Response Centre and the BC Centre on Substance Use, said forms of fentanyl that can be injected and snorted may have to be made available for people who seek a feeling of euphoria from street drugs.

“We really have to look at how substance users use their drugs and what drugs they’re using. It’s really the unpredictable doses that are killing people,” said Felicella, who overdosed six times before seeking treatment.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

B.C. overdosesopioid crisisoverdose crisis

Just Posted

This photo of the Rack and Rally squash club was taken in June 2021. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Improvements planned for Third Avenue squash club

City council concerned about how long construction is taking

EJ Dunn principal Darrin Olson, left, and Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Councils Richard Samuel, right, present Trey Kyte, second from left, with his Grades 2-3 Spring Festival 2021 winning poster. With them are Kytes fellow banner painters Liam Horbatch, Sybil Purwins and Macen Avery. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
SD70’s biennial First Nations spring festival goes virtual for 2021

Alberni Valley schools showcase Indigenous learnings from past year

Port Alberni court house (Alberni Valley News)
Coroners’ inquest into 2016 death of Port Alberni teen rescheduled for June 21

18-year-old Jocelyn George died of heart failure after spending time in jail cell

CELEBRATING IN STYLE
Members of the 2021 Alberni District Secondary School graduating class pose for a photo at McLean Mill National Historic Site on June 12. Graduates held their prom on Saturday, although things looked a little different due to COVID-19. See more on page A10. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Port Alberni 2021 grads celebrate prom with car cruise

Special event held at McLean Mill National Historic Site

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
VIDEO: Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

Two Lotto Max tickets sold on Vancouver Island were winners, though nobody won the $70-million jackpot in Tuesday’s draw. (BCLC image)
Vancouver Island lottery players win $1 million and $500,000 in Lotto Max draw

$1 million ticket sold in Campbell River, $500,000 ticket sold in Nanaimo

St. Joseph's Mission site is located about six kilometres from Williams Lake First Nation. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake First Nation to search residential school site for unmarked graves

St. Joseph’s Mission Indian Residential School operated from 1886 to 1981

Tuesday’s Lotto Max draw went unclaimed. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Tuesday’s Lotto Max draw went unclaimed. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lotto Max jackpot goes unclaimed again

42 of the 64 Maxmillion prizes of $1 million were won, the majority were sold in Ontario

FILE - This July 6, 2017 file photo shows prescription drugs in a glass flask at the state crime lab in Taylorsville, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Contaminants in generic drugs may cause long-term harm to DNA: B.C. researcher

Scientist says findings suggest high volume overseas facilities require strict regulation

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., on April 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Labour shortages, closed borders major obstacles to B.C. restaurant, tourism restarts

Industry expert says it won’t start to recover until international travellers can visit

A still image from security camera video recorded June 8 shows an individual lighting trash on fire in the doorway of 19+ Cannabis Store on Victoria Crescent. RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue are investigating numerous fires set in downtown Nanaimo in the past three months. (Photo submitted)
‘It’s out of control’: More than 20 fires set in downtown Nanaimo in past 3 months

Authorities asking business owners to keep dumpsters locked

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read