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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Police presence in Chemainus in an actual building is limited to South Island Highway Patrol on Chemainus Road. (Photo by Pete Cavanaugh)
Petition calls for policing commitment in Chemainus to be honoured

Former detachment member leads the charge in making the municipality and RCMP accountable

Khowhemun Elementary is one of two Cowichan Valley schools that announced possible COVID-19 exposures last week. (Google Street View image)
Two Cowichan Valley schools announce possible COVID-19 exposures

Positive tests at Khowhemun, Quamichan; Superstore confirms more cases

Members of the 4-H Horse Club enjoy the annual horse camp at the Cowichan Exhibition grounds. (submitted)
Farm Credit Canada supports Cowichan 4-H club with cash

On the list of recipients is the Cowichan 4-H Horse Club out of Cobble Hill.

Flanked by CVOLC staff members Kevin van der Linden, Nate Boersen, Lisa Kellar and Neil Ellingson, Ryan Linehan receives his Student of the Month award from Rotary representatives Gregg Perry and Kim Barnard. 
(Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Cowichan Valley Open Learning Collective ‘ambassador’ named Student of the Month

Ryan Linehan earns award for demonstrating natural leadership

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Montreal Canadiens right wing Paul Byron (41) fights for control of the puck with Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes (43) during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Monday, March 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Captain Clutch: Horvat nets shootout winner as Canucks edge Habs 2-1

Vancouver, Montreal tangle again on Wednesday

A special committee has been appointed to look at reforming B.C.’s police act and is inviting the public to make submissions until April 30, 2021. (Black Press media file)
Have thoughts on B.C.’s review of the provincial Police Act?

Submissions will be accepted until April 30

Cottonwoods Care Home in Kelowna. (Google Maps)
New COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna care home includes fully vaccinated seniors: Henry

Two staff and 10 residents tested positive at Cottonwoods Care Centre

Excerpts from a conversation between Bria Fisher and the fake truLOCAL job. Fisher had signed a job agreement and was prepared to start work for what she thought was truLOCAL before she learned it was a scam. (Contributed)
B.C. woman warning others after losing $3,000 in job scam

Bria Fisher was hired by what she thought was a Canadian company, only to be out thousands

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix provide a regular update on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, March 2, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 cases: 545 Saturday, 532 Sunday, 385 Monday

Focus on Prince Rupert, Lower Mainland large workplaces

Rising accident rates and payout costs have contributed to billion-dollar deficits at ICBC. (Comox Valley Record)
B.C. appealing decision keeping ICBC injury cases in court

David Eby vows to ‘clip wings’ of personal injury lawyers

Hannah Ankenmann, who works with k’awat’si Economic Development Corporation, winces as she received her first shot of the Pfizer vaccine administered by a Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Family Health nurse. (Zoe Ducklow photo)
Vancouver Island’s small remote towns to get community-wide vaccine clinics

Island Health to take a wholesale approach to immunization, rather than age-based appointments

Most Read