BC has been in the midst of a public health emergency since April 14, 2016, when the number of opioid-related overdose deaths began to increase significantly. The emergency continues as the unconscionable number of overdose deaths are not decreasing. The COVID-19 pandemic and an increasingly toxic illicit drug supply introduced new and increased risks for people who use drugs, and tragically we saw an unprecedented number of deaths in 2020.
In March 2020, in the context of these two public health emergencies, and the amplified risk of overdose since COVID-19, the province announced new guidance on safe supply (also referred to as “Risk Mitigation” or “pandemic prescribing”).
PAN member organizations and partners have been on the frontlines of responding to, reversing, and managing grief and loss related to overdoses.
In the past year this has included adjusting their outreach and harm reduction services to support clients and members during the COVID-19 pandemic, and working to connect people to access safe supply. Almost immediately, challenges were evident in the implementation of the safe supply. As these challenges continued, PAN members requested that we collect information and document the experiences of community organizations’ with the rollout of safe supply.
In response, we developed a survey for PAN members to gather stories of success, challenges, and impacts and to see how PAN could best support our members’ in this work. We circulated the first round of the survey in July/August 2020 and the second round in December 2020. We plan to continue to circulate the survey approximately every six months to capture any changes in experience relating to new policies, guidance, or services related to safe supply.
Reports from PAN member surveys to date
Results from the 1st round of the survey indicated that safe supply is an essential part of the response to the overdose crisis, but that there are many things that need improvement to see successful access and positive outcomes for people who use drugs in BC. Necessary improvements include increasing the prescriber base, prescription options, wraparound services, and looking to peer leadership to design a system that works best for people.
Results from the 2nd round of the survey similarly showed that access remains inconsistent across the province, reluctance to prescribe safe supply continues across BC, and that the prescription options available are insufficient to represent true safe supply to replace the illicit and poisoned drug supply. However, organizations also reported successfully connecting some clients to safe supply, and the benefits this has had in terms of stability for their clients.
It is our goal with this data that we honour the lives of people who use drugs and contribute to better health outcomes for them. These results have been shared in meetings with the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, with both the past and current Ministers Darcy and Malcolmson, respectively. Survey results will continue to support PAN’s ongoing advocacy work towards improving access and experiences of safe supply in BC. We want to acknowledge the partnerships we’ve had moving this work forward including AVI, ANKORS, and the BC Centre on Substance Use, among other groups. Finally, we honour peers working and advocating from the frontlines and thank them for their continued leadership.
For more information and support, please see our Drug Use and Overdose Response resources.
Questions? Comments? Get in touch.
Jennifer (Evin) Jones, Executive Director, [email protected]