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

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of three Sooke men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Nanaimo-raised singer Allison Crowe with director Zack Snyder on the set of ‘Man of Steel’ in 2011. Crowe performs a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in the upcoming director’s cut of ‘Justice League.’ (Photo courtesy Clay Enos)
B.C. musician records song for upcoming ‘Justice League’ film

Allison Crowe’s close connection to director led to rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah

A 50-year-old man was stabbed in an altercation that started with a disagreement about physical distancing. (File photo)
Argument about physical distancing leads to stabbing in Nanaimo

Suspect arrested on Gabriola Island an hour after incident Wednesday, Feb. 24

A battery electric-hybrid ferry, pictured here, is expected to make its way to Vancouver Island in late 2021, says B.C. Ferries. (Submitted photo)
Hybrid ferry for Gabriola-Nanaimo route launches in shipyard in Europe

Two hybrid vessels to replace MV Quinsam by early 2022, says B.C. Ferries

G.P. Vanier in Courtenay has six members of the community who have tested positive; Island Health identified seven staff and 78 students who will be required to self-isolate. Black Press file photo
Eight sick, 108 more isolating in Comox Valley school district due to COVID-19

District says that all who tested positive did not contract COVID-19 within the school sites

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools is preparing a rapid response team proposal for submission to the B.C. Ministry of Education. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district chosen as COVID-19 rapid response team

Team to consist of SD68 and Island Health staff, according to B.C. Ministry of Education

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

The missing camper heard a GSAR helicopter, and ran from his tree well waving his arms. File photo
Man trapped on Manning mountain did nearly everything right to survive: SAR

The winter experienced camper was overwhelmed by snow conditions

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Ashley Paxman, 29, is in the ICU after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 97 Feb. 18, 2021. She remains in critical condition. (GoFundMe)
Okanagan woman in ICU with broken bones in face after being struck by car

She remains in serious condition following Feb. 18 incident

Vancouver International Women in Film Festival kicks off March 5.
Women in Film Festival features two B.C. filmmakers

The 16th annual festival kicks off March 5, 2021

The BC SPCA is offering many chances for school-aged kids to learn about animal welfare and other animal topics. Pictured here is Keith, a three-month-old kitten seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
From pets to wildlife, BC SPCA offers animal education programs geared to youth

BC SPCA offering virtual spring break camps, workshops and school presentations

Most Read