The BC government announced that it is phasing in a new policy for expanded access to prescribed safe supply, becoming the first province in Canada to do so.

The policy was announced Thursday, July 15th and was developed within the limits of the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which requires controlled substances be provided by prescription.

“At the start of the pandemic, BC provided access to some prescribed safer supply medications to save lives from overdose and protect people from COVID-19. Building on what we’ve learned, we’re expanding access to prescribed safer supply to reach more people and save more lives,” said Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Sheila Malcolmson.

Over the next three years, as part of Budget 2021, $22.6 million dollars will be directed to health authorities to lay the foundation for this new approach.

This new prescribed safer supply policy will roll out through a phased approach, beginning with implementing the policy in existing health-authority funded programs that currently prescribe alternatives to illicit drugs and through newly created programs such as service hubs and outreach teams.

People who want to access these services will not have to be referred by a doctor and will be assessed by a prescriber using a typical assessment similar to any other health condition.

Once fully implemented, people who use drugs or are at a high-risk of drug-toxicity, will be able to access a broader range of opioid and stimulant replacements like fentanyl patches and tablets, as well as access to alternatives covered by Pharmacare.

The first phase of this new policy is expected to be in place for 18 to 24 months as data is collected to assess this approach.

The program will be available in existing programs with substance use services, newly created services, and through existing federally funded Safer programs.

Expansion is currently underway with every health authority.

Further phases will expand on what is learned and expand broader access once the clinical guidance is developed based on findings from the monitoring and evaluation process.

In response, Sonia Furstenau, Leader of the BC Greens and MLA for Cowichan Valley, agreed with that the move was a step in the right direction, but iterated that because of the low number of prescribers and family doctors in BC, this model isn’t as effective as it could be.

“Communities on both sides are being clear that a prescriber model comes with many complications. This government should listen to those consulted, and immediately find a path outside of the medical system to provide a safe supply of drugs,” Furstenau said.

“A compassion club or co-op model is one such low-barrier model that can provide immediate benefits for drug users across B.C., and that model is scalable.”

The BC Coroner has reported that, since the beginning of January, 851 BC residents have died due to a toxic drug supply.

According to the report, an average of 5.2 opioid-related deaths occurred every day in May.

The 851 lives lost between January and May of this year are the most reported opioid-related deaths ever recorded in the beginning of a calendar year.

Decriminalization in BC

In April, the BC government announced they applied for a federal exemption from Health Canada to decriminalize personal possession of drugs in BC.

The agreement would determine and define simple possession, allowable drug amounts, and ensure the readiness of law enforcement, health and social services to support decriminalization.

In June, Mayors across BC, including three from Vancouver Island, expressed their support for Vancouver’s request to Health Canada to decriminalize drug possession.

Health Canada has yet to respond.

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