Safe Supply in B.C, In a 96-page report released on Thursday (opens in a new tab), Dr. Bonnie Henry, the top physician in British Columbia, advocates for the expansion of the province’s safer supply policy, calling it “an ethically defensible way” to lessen harms for drug users. The report’s goals are to support clinicians’ work as well as to enhance the lives of drug users in the province.
Safe Supply in B.C.: Top Doctor Recommends Expansion of Prescription Program
During a press conference on Thursday, Henry stated, “There are very important stories and voices (in the report) and they are varied,” adding that colleagues, people with lived experience, and doctors were consulted. “Many things that we heard from many different groups of people and there was not one unified voice around this program.”
The province of British Columbia provided health authorities with $22.6 million in direct financing to establish the program’s framework over three years in 2021 when the province’s mandated safer supply policy was initially launched. The government announced at the time that the funds would also be used to support the development, gradual implementation, monitoring, and assessment of safer supply services that were mandated.
Extending the list of drugs that can be prescribed to drug addicts is one of Henry’s review’s suggestions. According to the survey, hydromorphone tablets are the most readily available and often prescribed drug at the moment. Doctors consulted for the paper, however, stated that the tablets didn’t help people with higher opiate tolerance. The paper suggested using the program to increase access to heroin, diacetylmorphine, and fentanyl powder.
The research also mentioned the difficulties certain groups have in obtaining a safer prescription supply, such as a lack of access to physicians. According to the survey, some individuals may not perceive the medical system as a secure environment for drug users.
Diversion as an “Inadvertent Outcome”
Health officials expressed fears that drugs obtained under the safe-supply program would be transferred to other people after the report was released. The research did note that some of the diversion may be going to individuals who would otherwise be in danger of drug poisoning, but it did not specify how much of it gets diverted.
During the news conference on Thursday, Dr. Alexis Crabtree of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control stated, “The unintended consequence most people are concerned about is diversion of the medications.” “We know from qualitative research about patients who have accessed prescribed safer supply that some of them do share or sell their medications, particularly when they feel those medications don’t act as an adequate substitute to unregulated drug supply.”
“A variety of reasons” exist for this, according to Crabtree, one of which is “supporting others who might not have access to safer supply.”
Additionally, according to Crabtree, the provincial coroner, who looks into all drug-poisoning deaths in British Columbia, has “consistently” stated that hydromorphone and other safer prescription drugs are not “a direct contributor to rising deaths from drug poisoning.”
Speaking specifically to young people, Crabtree stated that there is a “significant concern” that they would have access to diverted opioids, but he also acknowledged that the available evidence is rather sparse. She did, however, cite data through the end of 2022 that indicated the province had not seen an increase in the diagnosis of opioid use disorders in young people.
In 2016, the province issued a public health emergency due to drug-related fatalities. Since then, the number of drug-related deaths has increased steadily, reaching an all-time high in 2023 (opens in a new tab).
According to Henry’s study, the COVID-19 pandemic did nothing except make things worse by preventing people from obtaining harm-reduction and medical services due to shutdowns. According to the paper, there was also a disruption in the global drug trade, which changed the toxicity of medications.
Lisa LaPointe, the chief coroner for the province, has advocated for a prescription-free model, despite Henry’s report’s emphasis on improving prescribed alternatives(opens in a new tab).
But Premier David Eby stated that he didn’t agree with LaPointe’s call (opens in a new tab).
“I do not believe that the distribution of incredibly toxic opioid drugs without the supervision of a medical professional in British Columbia is the way forward and the way out of the toxic drug crisis,” Eby stated during a news conference last week.
Eby stated that he thought the only way to resolve the situation was to stop individuals from abusing harmful street drugs and assist them in starting over, such as by providing additional detox facilities.
“Our vision is that no person should have to wait for detox,” Eby stated. “No person should have to wait for treatment.”