The Canadian Association for Safe Supply said the provincial government failed to act and prepare for more overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was declared by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020.
”The provincial government was caught flat-footed during a pandemic. When we needed physical distancing and safe supply, few could access that supply and it wasn’t exactly safe, although patients were never told that,” association co-founder Jordan Westfall said.
He called on the provincial government to act now on creating a safe drug supply, noting regular and recreational users continue to be at risk.
“There is literally a non-profit pharma company producing diacetylmorphine in British Columbia and everything needed is right here, but it seems like the province is gridlocked,” Westfall said. “Instead of expanding pharma coverage, which is a provincial responsibility, they rely on the federal government to fund more pilot projects.”
Association co-founder David Mendes noted that while the federal exemption to section 56a of the Canadian Criminal Code was implemented, allowing drug users to take home doses of dilaudid and ritalin as a COVID-19 isolation tool.
“While this was a positive and groundbreaking initiative, it did not curb the rising death toll,” Mendes said. ”The majority of the users receiving these were still having to use street drugs — fentanyl — due to the limited potency and increased tolerances from extended use of fentanyl and benzodiazepine.
“For many, a generic form of dilaudid was prescribed instead due to cost, which does not have the desired and needed effect or their local doctor or pharmacy would not prescribe anything at all due to their personal beliefs, limited knowledge of addiction and lack of tested safe supply options such as diacetylmorphine (heroin) and hydromorphone. “
Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson said during a press conference on Thursday (Feb. 11) that about 6,000 overdose deaths were prevented due to the use of medication such as naloxone and suboxone.
She said much more needs to be done, noting measures such as de facto decriminalization of simple amounts of hard drugs — via the police not bothering to make such arrests — is not enough. Malcomson pointed to her government’s pledge to increase treatment beds for youth as one of the steps being taken. She said she has pressed the federal government on the need to decriminalize and create a safe supply, in response to her mandate letter from Premier John Horgan that directs her to discuss the issue with Ottawa and, failing movement there, look for a made-in-B.C. solution.