Reg­u­la­tions sought to prevent OD deaths

The Prince George Citizen - - News -

The chief med­i­cal health of­fi­cer of Van­cou­ver Coastal Health is calling for the ur­gent reg­u­la­tion of il­licit drugs so substances could be sold or pro­vided for free to those at high risk of over­dose through a frame­work sim­i­lar to poli­cies on mar­i­juana, al­co­hol and to­bacco.

Dr. Pa­tri­cia Daly said lim­its on who could access the drugs, with penal­ties for any­one try­ing to sell them to mi­nors, would be part of a pro­posed regime to prevent over­dose deaths of people who are ac­cess­ing street drugs often con­tain­ing the deadly opioid fen­tanyl.

“We have the high­est over­dose death rate of any ju­ris­dic­tion in Canada and we have also im­ple­mented more ser­vices to ad­dress the cri­sis than any ju­ris­dic­tion so we be­lieve we’ve done all the things we can do apart from reg­u­lat­ing the il­le­gal drug supply,” she said Fri­day as she re­leased a re­port with 21 rec­om­men­da­tions on deal­ing with the over­dose cri­sis.

Users of regulated il­licit drugs would need to be as­sessed by a doc­tor to de­ter­mine if they could over­dose and to de­ter people who may want to ex­per­i­ment with drugs, Daly said, adding the Van­cou­ver Coastal region is “cut­ting edge” with pro­grams aimed at pre­vent­ing fa­tal over­doses, such as nalox­one dis­tri­bu­tion pro­grams and over­dose pre­ven­tion sites.

A unique pi­lot project pro­vides phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal-grade pills of the opioid hy­dro­mor­phone to users who in­gest them or crush them to in­ject un­der su­per­vi­sion as a sub­sti­tute for heroin after fail­ing other forms of treat­ment.

“This is the first pi­lot of a regulated supply and that’s be­ing funded by our pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment,” she said. “I think we will see the fed­eral gov­ern­ment fund­ing other pi­lots as we’re mak­ing progress with all levels of gov­ern­ment.”

Dr. Christy Suther­land, who runs the “very suc­cess­ful” pro­gram, said about 60 people are cur­rently us­ing hy­dro­mor­phone.

“There are no plans for it to end. We are work­ing on on­go­ing ex­pan­sion,” she said.

Van­cou­ver Coastal Health will be ap­ply­ing to con­duct more pi­lots on a safer drug supply fol­low­ing a call for pro­pos­als by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment last month, Daly said.

She said de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion of pos­ses­sion of drugs for per­sonal use is also a pri­or­ity but Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau has main­tained the gov­ern­ment is not pre­pared to take that step.

The Van­cou­ver Po­lice Depart­ment has long been sup­port­ive of a regulated drug supply and instead of ar­rest­ing drug users refers them to out­reach teams and treat­ment and the fire depart­ment will soon be work­ing with Van­cou­ver Coastal to do the same, Daly said.

She said an un­reg­u­lated drug supply would be rec­og­niz­ing that il­licit drug use is not a crime but a health is­sue that needs to be ad­dressed through in­no­va­tive ap­proaches be­cause fen­tanyl is almost always present when drugs are tested for con­tam­i­na­tion.

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