Publication date: May 23, 2020
British Columbia was already battling a major health crisis – skyrocketing overdose deaths – when the new coronavirus emerged.
Related: In Vancouver, people who use drugs are supervising injections and reversing overdoses In March, it approved new guidelines for supporting people with drug addictions during a lockdown.
The guidelines make it easier for doctors to prescribe controlled substances such as opioids and stimulants, off-label, as replacements for people who would otherwise seek out similar drugs on the street.
-We knew we had to act quickly in the context of a dual public health emergency in order to keep individuals who were struggling with addiction safe and to keep the community safe from COVID-19,” said Judy Darcy, British Columbia’s minister of Mental Health and Addictions.
Darcy said the province has been in emergency mode for years, in part because of a tainted illicit drug supply – it has been laced with a highly potent synthetic opioid called fentanyl, which has led to a surge in overdose deaths.
In response, since 2017, the province has ramped up treatment programs and other interventions like consumption sites, where people can use drugs under to Canada: Americans desperate for affordable drugs spark concerns about shortages Enter the pandemic.
But Darcy and others sounded the alarm in March when suspected overdose deaths reached 113 in British Columbia, the highest monthly level in a year.
-What I’m concerned about are the vicissitudes in supply and the rebound effect,” said Dan Ciccarone, an addiction doctor and drug researcher at the University of California, San Francisco.
The new mitigation guidelines in British Columbia, according to Johnson, are just one part of trying to limit the spread of COVID-19 and reduce people’s risks.
But these new, broader guidelines which include prescriptions for other drugs like Ritalin and benzodiazepine, and less supervision, is uncharted territory.
Even doctors on the front lines of the crisis, who led the push for a safe drug supply well before the coronavirus, have some concerns about how this is all done.
-It’s really operationally very difficult to give people, you know, a large supply of drugs and tell them to go sit in a room and use them over two or three weeks [if they need to isolate due to the coronavirus],” Tyndall said.
About 400 patients are getting prescriptions under the new guidelines, the majority of which is for an opioid, like hydromorphone, according to Darcy, with the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.