Study shows cleaner supply of illicit drugs would reduce overdose rates

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A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal examines ways to prevent opioid addicts from overdosing and dying from contaminated illicit drugs

A new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) indicates that providing safe drug substances to drug addicts could be a solution to the growing number of overdose deaths caused by the toxic and unregulated supply of illicit drugs.

The study reports that there are safer alternatives available in Canada that offer addicts a “flexible and safe supply program that offers multiple drug options, including fentanyl, and is integrated with other healthcare and social services”.

The report is authored by Sukhpreet Klaire, Christy Sutherland, Thomas Kerr and Mary Clare Kennedy, a group of physicians and researchers affiliated with the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver and UBC Okanagan in Kelowna. Details of the study were released on Monday, May 16.

“Between January 2016 and June 2021, 24,626 people died from opioid toxicity in Canada. A major driver of this ongoing public health crisis has been the seepage of illegally manufactured fentanyl and other dangerous adulterants into the unregulated drug supply,” the study states. New figures released by Health Canada show the death toll at nearly 27,000 over that five-year period.

Health Canada also revealed that overdose death rates have increased in several jurisdictions. So far in 2021 (January to September), 88% of all accidental deaths related to apparent opioid toxicity have occurred in British Columbia, Alberta or Ontario.

The medical study indicates that one of the main problems of “this ongoing public health crisis” is that criminal drug manufacturers and street dealers have infiltrated the illegal drug supply with fentanyl and other hazardous substances.

He said official interventions and efforts to educate drug addicts have not been sufficient and the number of overdose deaths continues to rise.

The study stated that “this reality has prompted calls for the provision of a legal and regulated source of psychoactive substances, known as ‘safe supply’, particularly flexible, low-barrier options that cater to diverse needs and goals of people who use drugs”.

This position is similar to that stated by harm reduction advocates last month in Sudbury.

The CMAJ study refers to the SAFER program in Vancouver, which has been in effect since April 2021.

“Safer Alternatives for Emergency Response (SAFER) is a safe, flexible, low-barrier supply program that offers multiple drug options, including fentanyl, and is integrated with other health care and social services,” said Health Canada.

The study indicates that SAFER is run by a non-profit organization (PHS Community Services Society) in partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health and is funded by Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program.

While critics might argue that the program does not help keep users away from drug use, SAFER’s main goal is to reduce the risk of overdose of unknown substances. The study stated that SAFER does not necessarily try to support abstinence.

The study indicates that a scientific evaluation of SAFER, funded by Vancouver Coastal Health, will assess the effectiveness of the program in reducing the risk of overdose and supporting access to care without generating unintended harm. The authors said a prospective cohort of about 200 participants is being established to provide baseline data, followed by biannual questionnaires over a two-year period.

The study does not include a formal conclusion, but asks what might be expected in the future.

The study indicates that although SAFER initially operates only in Vancouver, similar safe supply programs have been implemented or are being considered in other Canadian contexts.

Including SAFER, the study says Health Canada has funded 18 safe supply pilot programs since 2019. The study did not provide locations, but Health Canada said programs are underway in British Columbia, in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.

Health Canada said future research should assess the different features and contexts of the programs in place and their effectiveness.

“Given the strong consensus among experts that safe supply is one of the most promising measures to stem the drug poisoning crisis, it is essential to remove barriers to access, expand coverage, conduct rigorous evaluation and refine delivery approaches to maximize potential impacts,” the health ministry said. Canada website.

Len Gillis covers health care and mining for Sudbury.com.

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