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Province reviewing report on safer drug supply as a way to deal with overdose deaths

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. Province of B.C. photo

The province is reviewing a recent report by B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, about the Prescribed Safer Supply program (prescribed alternatives), while making immediate updates to the program based on her recommendations to reduce unintended harms and help people living with addiction stay alive.

Prescribed alternatives are one part of the province’s work to address the toxic-drug crisis, in addition to the expansion of treatment and recovery services, early intervention and prevention, supportive housing and more.

Henry’s report highlights that access to prescribed alternatives is a critical option for people struggling with addiction and is often used in combination with medication-assisted treatments, such as opioid agonist treatment (OAT).

Her report lays out recommendations for how the Province can update the program to save more people from illicit drug deaths and reduce the risks of prescription misuse.

“Separating people from the poisoned drug supply so they can stabilize their lives and begin their own recovery journey is a critical part of our plan to save lives and connect people to care that works for them,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, in a news release. “I’m very grateful to Dr. Henry for her thorough review, and to the doctors, nurse practitioners, front-line health-care workers, and people with lived experience who shared their perspectives and expertise. It will help inform critical changes to the program so we can save more lives and help keep people safe as we also expand access to treatment, so more people can get the help they need.”

The report makes several extensive recommendations that require further review and consultation. In addition to working with health authorities, public health and other partners to review the recommendations and determine next steps, the Province is taking immediate action in the following areas:

  • Reducing the risk of misuse of prescriptions will be done by working to expand medication options to better meet the needs of people at risk of toxic-drug poisoning, making “witnessed” dosing the default for new medications, and updating clinical guidance on hydromorphone prescribing for select patients.
  • The Risk Mitigation Guidance for clinicians will be retired and a new practice bulletin will be developed that provides guidance about how to prescribe pharmaceutical alternatives during emergencies. The Risk Mitigation Guidance was originally introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic to support people with addictions who were required to isolate.
  • Working with partners, a provincial child-and-youth substance-use and wellness framework will be developed. The framework will set the strategic direction for ministries, health authorities, community agencies and others to implement a more responsive and integrated youth substance-use system of prevention and care to improve addictions care for young people.
  • The name of the program will be changed from “prescribed safer supply” to “prescribed alternatives” to better describe the nature of the program.

A recent study in the British Medical Journal found that the prescribed alternatives program reduces the risk of death by as much as 91 per cent in people with opioid-use disorder.

The province continues to urgently work to expand treatment options for people living with mental-health and addictions challenges, in addition to harm-reduction actions including the prescribed alternatives program and overdose prevention services.

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