B.C. ad­vo­cates call for heroin buyer clubs

The Prince George Citizen - - News -

A group of peo­ple who have real life ex­pe­ri­ence with drug use in Bri­tish Columbia and Yukon is call­ing on the B.C. gov­ern­ment to sup­port a com­mu­nity-led mech­a­nism for a safe drug sup­ply, in or­der to com­bat deaths from poi­son­ing by pow­er­ful adul­ter­ants like fen­tanyl and car­fen­tanil.

The BC-Yukon As­so­ci­a­tion of Drug War Sur­vivors is re­quest­ing that Minister of Men­tal Health and Ad­dic­tions Judy Darcy im­me­di­ately en­act an or­der that pro­vides a le­gal frame­work for drug buy­ers clubs, start­ing in par­tic­u­lar with di­acetyl­mor­phine, or heroin.

The or­der would fall un­der B.C.’s Emer­gency Health Ser­vices Act, sim­i­lar to the min­is­te­rial or­der that al­lowed for the rapid es­tab­lish­ment of over­dose pre­ven­tion sites in De­cem­ber 2016.

The clubs are mod­elled af­ter the cannabis compassion clubs that emerged in re­sponse to the AIDS epi­demic of the 1980s and 1990s.

They in­volve club mem­bers pool­ing re­sources to make bulk pur­chases from the safest avail­able sup­ply and then us­ing drugcheck­ing ser­vices to en­sure bet­ter qual­ity con­trol in the dis­tri­bu­tion of heroin.

“You’re go­ing to get what you’re pay­ing for rather than it being at the whim of the street,” said Kevin Don­aghy, the pres­i­dent of the as­so­ci­a­tion that launched the call ahead of In­ter­na­tional Over­dose Aware­ness Day on Satur­day, Aug. 31.

Heroin buyer clubs are al­ready start­ing to take shape in B.C., said Don­aghy, who is help­ing to or­ga­nize a con­fer­ence on safe sup­ply that would bring to­gether peo­ple who use drugs from across the province in mid-Oc­to­ber.

“There’s al­ready an econ­omy that ex­ists in every com­mu­nity across the province where peo­ple use sub­stances (and) peo­ple are pur­chas­ing and sell­ing drugs,” he said. “It’s a process of test­ing out these mod­els and we are do­ing this po­lit­i­cal work now to try and create a leg­isla­tive frame­work that al­lows us to do this safely.”

Un­til a leg­isla­tive frame­work is es­tab­lished, drug buy­ing clubs will op­er­ate clan­des­tinely, which Don­aghy said fu­els the over­dose cri­sis.

“The rea­son that peo­ple are dy­ing is be­cause of the stigma and be­cause of the fear of reper­cus­sions of en­gag­ing in drug use or il­licit ac­tiv­ity,” he said.

Peo­ple are most sus­cep­ti­ble to an over­dose when their tol­er­ance is low, such as when a per­son is in the early stages of drug use or leav­ing a treat­ment pro­gram or cor­rec­tional fa­cil­ity, Don­aghy added.

“The peo­ple most sus­cep­ti­ble to fa­tal over­doses are recre­ational users (and) peo­ple who are not heavy drug users” he said, not­ing that peo­ple from all so­cioe­co­nomic back­grounds use il­licit drugs.

B.C. de­clared a pub­lic health emer­gency in 2016 fol­low­ing sig­nif­i­cant in­creases in opioid-re­lated over­dose deaths and in April Dr. Bon­nie Henry, the province’s top health of­fi­cial, called for the de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion of peo­ple caught with il­le­gal drugs.

De­crim­i­nal­iza­tion would help re­duce deep-rooted shame and stig­mas that dis­cour­age peo­ple from ac­cess­ing sup­port ser­vices and in turn help to pro­tect them from a toxic sup­ply, Henry said at the time.

Nearly a thou­sand peo­ple died from il­licit drug over­doses in 2016, fol­lowed by 1,486 in 2017 and 1,510 in 2018, ac­cord­ing to the BC Coroners Ser­vice.

There were 538 sus­pected over­dose deaths from il­licit drugs in the first six months of this year.

“We pause to hon­our the loved ones who have died in this un­re­lent­ing cri­sis fu­elled by a toxic, un­pre­dictable il­licit drug sup­ply,” Minister Darcy said in a state­ment mark­ing Over­dose Aware­ness Day on Satur­day.

Asked about heroin buyer clubs, Darcy’s of­fice did not re­spond specif­i­cally.

“The Min­istry un­der­stands the need to pro­vide a va­ri­ety of treat­ment op­tions for peo­ple with sub­stance use dis­or­der,” a spokesper­son said in an email.

“This in­cludes ac­tively look­ing at ex­pand­ing le­gal pre­scrip­tion al­ter­na­tives to the toxic drug sup­ply that can be pro­vided un­der med­i­cal su­per­vi­sion to save lives.”

B.C. is al­ready an in­ter­na­tional ex­am­ple for tack­ling the over­dose cri­sis and im­ple­ment­ing harm re­duc­tion, said Bruce Wal­lace, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the school of so­cial work at the Univer­sity of Vic­to­ria and a sci­en­tist with the Cana­dian In­sti­tute for Sub­stance Use Re­search.

How­ever, he said fed­eral ap­proval for the adop­tion of pre­scrip­tion drugs to en­sure a safe sup­ply would take too long.

“With­out that safe sup­ply, it’s re­ally been a chal­lenge and we haven’t changed the drug laws through­out this cri­sis,” said Wal­lace, adding that B.C. is the best ju­ris­dic­tion to push the en­ve­lope be­yond over­dose pre­ven­tion sites and to­wards estab­lish­ing a safe sup­ply.

The De­cem­ber 2016 min­is­te­rial or­der ex­pe­dited the es­tab­lish­ment of over­dose pre­ven­tion sites by skirt­ing fed­eral over­sight and en­sured staff and peo­ple ac­cess­ing the sites were pro­tected from crim­i­nal charges, said Wal­lace, which is why he’s joined the call for a sim­i­lar or­der al­low­ing for heroin buyer clubs.

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