The federal government announced Wednesday, July 15, 2020 that it is funding a safe drug supply pilot program for the Cowichan Valley. (THE NEWS/files)

Feds fund safe drug supply pilot program for Cowichan

The opioid overdose crisis continues to be one of the most serious public health crises

A safe drug supply pilot program is coming to the Cowichan Valley, Health Canada announced today.

“The opioid overdose crisis continues to be one of the most serious public health crises in Canada’s recent history. Tragically, in many communities, the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening this crisis. The Government of Canada continues to support communities across Canada as they respond to drug overdoses and harms during the pandemic,” said a Health Canada press release.

RELATED: Advocates call safe drug supply a victory but worry about logistics in pandemic

Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, along with the Judy Darcy, B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, and Dr. Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Health Officer, Island Health, announced approximately $2 million in funding for a pilot project within Island Health. The project will provide pharmaceutical-grade medication as an alternative to the toxic illegal drug supply for people in the Cowichan Valley who have not responded to other forms of treatment for opioid use disorder.

“It has never been more important to provide harm reduction and treatment services to people who use drugs,” said Hajdu. “It is devastating to see that the pandemic has worsened the situation for Canadians struggling with substance use disorders in many parts of country, including Vancouver Island communities in British Columbia. Providing a safer alternative to street drugs will save lives and help people in Cowichan Valley access treatment and other supports.”

This project will allow selected patients at risk of overdose to have access to hydromorphone tablets from a licensed prescriber at the Cowichan Valley Wellness and Recovery Centre. The patients will also receive critical wrap-around services, such as peer support, medical care, mental health support and a personal support plan. This project is a four-year pilot that will provide valuable evidence to support the development of best practices for safer supply programs.

RELATED: North Cowichan to outline community crisis to provincial ministries

“This medication option will provide a life-saving alternative to the contaminated drug supply that is driving our drug poisoning crisis,” said Stanwick. “The recent increase in overdose deaths in communities within Island Health shows a clear need for better access to a safer drug supply.”

Such a pilot project has been requested by the Cowichan Leadership Group, a group of local politicians, health officials and the RCMP.

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