Approximately 75 tents line Pandora Avenue on April 3, some closer than the two-metre physical distance regulation set out by the provincial health officer. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)

Approximately 75 tents line Pandora Avenue on April 3, some closer than the two-metre physical distance regulation set out by the provincial health officer. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)

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

Pandemic contributes to scarce supply, advocates worried about potential impact on the streets

Advocates say it took a pandemic for steps forward in the call for a safe supply of drugs for people dealing with substance use problems and there’s no guarantee progress will continue.

On March 26, the provincial government introduced new clinical guidelines after the federal government announced a number of exemptions that would be made to the Controlled Substances Act. The changes would allow doctors, nurses and pharmacists to prescribe a safe supply of medication to people dealing with substance use disorder in support of social distancing in the face of two public health emergencies.

Corey Ranger, a downtown street nurse, says safe supply is the best step forward in these circumstances. Working with Victoria’s homeless population, Ranger can’t say he’s seen an uptick in overdoses — yet. As borders close and people self-isolate, the illicit drug supply is becoming scarce and Ranger says it’s making the situation on the ground volatile.

READ ALSO: Sex workers face new risks during COVID-19 pandemic

“Drugs are being cut with other drugs. There’s a lot of benzos that are being found inside of opiates and naloxone doesn’t work on benzos so it’s producing some different kinds of overdoses, ” he says, adding that the lack of availability is changing people’s tolerance to drugs which can also lead to an overdose.

An open letter addressed to Premier John Horgan, along with a number of ministers, calls for the decriminalization of drugs as the next step forward to mitigating both the COVID-19 pandemic and the overdoses crisis.

Leslie McBain, co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm — one of the 17 organization that signed the letter, along with 22 individuals ranging from mayors to pharmacists to scientists — says there are still questions as to what safe supply will look like, but calls this a “great window into the future.”

“[The government’s] been sort of forced into acting on this and they can’t claw it back,” says McBain. “It’s not like when COVID-19 leaves us and we’re all back to some sense of normal that they’re going to say we can’t have safe supply anymore because we don’t have COVID-19 — they’re not going to do that.”

According to Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, that isn’t necessarily the case.

“The federal government is saying these guidelines expire at the end of September 2020 and I don’t have a crystal ball,” says Darcy.

READ ALSO: Should non-violent offenders be released from prison to avoid COVID-19 spread?

Under the new safe supply guidelines, people who don’t have a doctor can contact a rapid access addiction clinic or The Harbour Safe Consumption Site to get a prescription. Ranger explains that while people are getting a prescription for 23 to 30 days of safe supply, that does not mean you get to take home 23 days worth of drugs.

“Part of the prescription says you need to get your meds one day at a time or potentially two,” says Ranger. “The guidance tools are asking us to find pharmacies that can deliver and there are some that are doing that.”

From March 23 to 29 a spike in overdose deaths was reported in Vancouver and Ranger thinks it’s only a matter of time locally.

“I can say on the Island, in Victoria, we tend to be a week behind the trends so it could start happening for us,” he says.

McBain is worried about the same thing and says she doesn’t think safe supply will be rolled out fast enough.

“This is a victory for those who have been advocating for safe supply for years and it is important but is it going to stop what could be just the perfect storm for homeless people and marginalized people? I don’t think it’s going to be rolled out quickly enough to not see what’s coming down the pipe in terms of COVID infections, plus withdrawal from a dwindling supply of street drugs,” she says. “Prices are going up and supply is going down. People are getting desperate, it’s really scary.”

She says it’s the stigma attached to drug use that is diffusing the progress that needs to be made and points to the fact that alcohol and marijuana retailers are considered essential services.

“Liquor stores are an essential service because people are addicted to alcohol … people are addicted to drugs and why do they not have a safe supply, yet people who are addicted to alcohol have a safe supply,” McBain says.

Social service providers agree safe supply is a big step forward, but feel it shouldn’t have taken a pandemic to get there.

“It’s great that we’ve got this foundation but there certainly is a lot more work to be done to make it happen and that works need to be done with a sense of urgency because a lot of the stuff we’re doing right now is planning and we’re planning for things that are already happening,” says Ranger.



kendra.crighton@blackpress.ca

Follow us on Instagram
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

addictionsAddictions treatmentCoronavirusMental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy

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

Just Posted

Keygan Power with brother Quintin and mom Allison while camping the weekend before Keygan’s brain hemorrhage on Aug. 2, 2020. (Photo Allison Power)
Saanich teen ‘locked inside,’ regaining speech after severe brain hemorrhage

16-year-old suffers traumatic loss of function, still plays a mean game of chess

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: Vancouver Island in a January spike while B.C. cases decrease

Island’s top doc Dr. Stanwick breaks down the Island’s rising numbers

North Saanich is giving local businesses a break by waving renewal fees for 2021. (Black Press Media file photo)
North Saanich waives business renewal fees for 2021

The municipality raised $48,000 from businesses licences in 2020

The Sooke school district has filled all spots for their French immersion and nature kinderagarten programs in 2021-2022 school year. Regular kindergarten registration is still open and available. (Black Press Media file photo)
Sooke school district gets surplus of nature, French immersion kindergarten applications

Not enough room for almost half of nature kindergarten applicants

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

Shown is Quality Foods at 319 Island Highway in Parksville. The Island-based grocery chain announced on Jan. 25 it made a $2-per-hour pay premium, implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, permanent. (Mandy Moraes photo)
COVID-19: Quality Foods makes $2-per-hour employee pay premium permanent

Island-based grocery chain had extended increase twice in 2020

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
Canadian, American rescue crews searching for missing aircraft in waters near Victoria

The search is centered around the waters northeast of Port Angeles

The North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP have arrested a prolific offender who is now facing more than 40 charges. (Black Press file photo)
‘Priority offender’ arrested in Cowichan Valley faces more than 40 charges

Tyler Elrix, 37, had a history of evading police; was ordered not to be in Vancouver Island

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a pedestrian was struck and killed at 183 Street and Highway 10 Friday night. (File photo)
Modelling of predicted transmission growth from the B117 COVID-19 variant in British Columbia. (Simon Fraser University)
COVID-19 variant predicted to cause ‘unmanageable’ case spike in B.C: report

SFU researchers predict a doubling of COVID-19 cases every two weeks if the variant spreads

The Brucejack mine is 65 km north of Stewart in northwestern B.C. (Pretivm Photo)
B.C. mine executives see bright gleam in post-COVID future

Low carbon drives demand for copper, steelmaking coal

Most Read