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B.C.’s prescribed safer supply program expands to reduce overdoses and deaths from illicit drugs

People in B.C. who use toxic illicit drugs and are at risk of overdosing or dying will soon be able to access alternative drugs, the minister of mental health and addictions announced Thursday.

During a news conference, Sheila Malcolmson said the expanded safer supply program will help save lives by offering a substitute to poisoned street drugs to reduce overdose deaths.

She said the new policy will allow people who have been clinically assessed to have access to prescribed alternative drugs, like oral opioids, as a way to replace drugs that could be laced with potentially deadly fentanyl.

“At the start of the pandemic, B.C. provided access to some prescribed safer supply medications to save lives from overdose and protect people from COVID-19,” Malcolmson said.

“This is one tool within a comprehensive response to the overdose crisis as we continue to also build up a treatment system so everyone can get the care they need.”

She said substitutes including fentanyl patches are already being used and the expanded program will continue to add more alternative drugs.

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The ministry says the program will be available through clinics that currently prescribe alternatives to illicit drugs, which may be expanded after health authorities produce implementation plans at the end of the month.

Doctors reluctant to prescribe medications to substance users are expected to be provided with training, and the prescribed drugs will be covered by PharmaCare.

More work needed, says Green leader

Sonia Furstenau, leader of the B.C. Green Party and MLA for Cowichan Valley, said the expansion of the prescribed safer supply policy is a step in the right direction, but not enough to provide a low-barrier and accessible safe supply.

“Ultimately the province is still relying on a prescriber model that puts barriers between drug users and a safe supply. It will not be enough to drastically reduce the deaths from the toxic street supply,” she said in a written statement. 

She said prescribers are few and far between, especially outside the Lower Mainland, and drug users living in more rural areas will inevitably turn to illicit drugs if they can’t access a prescription or the right alternative.

“Communities on both sides are being clear that a prescriber model comes with many complications,” 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.”

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