Federal funding for four safer supply projects for people at risk of overdose in B.C.

HEDY Fry, MP for Vancouver Centre, along with Sheila Malcolmson, B.C.’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, on behalf of federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu, announced on Monday more than $15 million in federal funding for four safer supply projects for people at risk of overdose in B.C. These projects will provide pharmaceutical-grade medication as an alternative to the toxic illegal supply in circulation.

The four safer supply projects, based in Vancouver and Victoria, will provide people with opioid use disorder with a safer, medical alternative from a licensed prescriber. The initiatives will also connect them with important health and social services, including treatment, which may be more difficult to access during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Substance use disorder is a health condition that can be managed and treated if people are provided with services and supports that best meet their needs. However, during the COVID-19 outbreak, people who use drugs are experiencing a number of increased risks, with several jurisdictions reporting higher rates of overdose, including fatal overdoses, and other harms related to an increasingly toxic illegal supply. The Government of Canada says it is working in collaboration with all levels of government, partners, stakeholders, people with lived and living experience of drug use, and organizations in communities across the country to respond to the outbreak and the overdose crisis.

Hajdu said: “The COVID-19 outbreak is worsening the situation for people struggling with substance use disorder in communities across the country. We must do more to address the devastating consequences that the toxic illegal drug supply is having on many parts of Canada. Working with these organizations and the Province of British Columbia, the support we are providing to these life-saving initiatives is another way we are helping people from Vancouver and Victoria, who are at risk of overdose, stay safe and find access to care and treatment for substance use disorder.”

Fry said: “Substance use disorder is a proven health issue. Street supply opioids have been tainted by fentanyl and benzodiazepines, making them fatal. The number of preventable deaths have steadily increased and evidence shows that one of the surest ways to save lives is through replacement therapy with a safe supply. These four safer supply projects in Vancouver and Victoria using physician prescriptions is one way of preventing deaths and blocking illegal supply chains – one of many actions that need to be taken together.”

Malcolmson said: “The pandemic has magnified the effects of an already devastating overdose crisis across Canada. In B.C., we’ve been expanding services as well as advocating for additional federal resources and I’m pleased that Health Canada is working with us to help separate more people from the toxic drug supply. I’m grateful to the frontline organizations whose critical work is so vital to B.C.’s overdose response and the people they serve.”

Dr. Patricia Daly, Chief Medical Health Officer, Vancouver Coastal Health, said: “Over the past year, we have had more overdoses than we have seen since the beginning of the public health emergency, in part due to the pandemic. The drug supply is more contaminated than ever and now is the time to talk about a safer drug supply for those people who are consuming illegal drugs. Our SAFER program is a step towards that. Vancouver Coastal Health, PHS Community Services Society and the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use thank the federal government for funding our proposal to support people most at risk of overdose and to ultimately save lives.”

Quick Facts

  • On July 15, the federal Minister of Health, along with the B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and the Chief Medical Health Officer of Island Health, announced approximately $2 million in federal funding for the Vancouver Island Health Authority to operate a four-year safer supply pilot project.
  • In the Fall Economic Statement 2020, the Government of Canada committed to help Canadians struggling with problematic substance use by providing an additional $66 million over two years. This funding would support community-based organizations responding to substance use issues, including to help them provide frontline services in a COVID-19 context.
  • Health Canada has published a toolkit with guidance for health care practitioners on providing medication as a treatment for substance use disorder or as a pharmaceutical-grade alternative to toxic street drugs during the outbreak.
  • Early findings from Canadian evidence show that using pharmaceutical-grade medications, such as hydromorphone, as an alternative to highly toxic street drugs for people at risk of overdose can help save lives and improve health outcomes. It can also help establish an entry to primary care and treatment for people with substance use disorder.
  • The four safer supply projects were funded through Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP). SUAP provides financial support to provinces, territories, non-governmental organizations and key stakeholders for programs and initiatives that aim to prevent, treat and reduce harm of substance use issues.