COVID-19 and the opioid epidemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the deadly overdose crisis. According to Canada’s public health agency, there were 6213 opioid-related deaths in 2020. In 2019, there were fewer than 4000. 

British Columbia will now be the first Canadian province to permanently provide a safe drug supply program. The trial program, which started at the beginning of the pandemic, allowed doctors and nurses to prescribe medication alternatives to substances such as opioids, among others. 

Over the next 3 years, $22.6 million will go to make this safe supply a permanent option, with initiatives such as the one offering the fentanyl patch being expanded. The first phase, spanning 18 to 24 months, will expand the health authority programs that already prescribe these alternatives to illicit drugs. New programs and outreach teams will also be created to reach more remote locations. 

It will be interesting to observe clinicians’ prescribing patterns in response. According to the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, the number of people receiving hydromorphone as an alternative to toxic street drugs has increased from 677 to 3329 in the past year. Now with guidelines surrounding fentanyl prescriptions as well as increased funding, the safe drug supply program will be better situated to compete with the toxic illicit drug supply. 
—Rebecca Xu, BSc
UBC MD Class of 2022

Additional reading
BC Government. BC introduces new prescribed safer supply policy, a Canadian first. Accessed 21 September 2021. 

CBC News. BC’s prescribed safer supply program expands to reduce overdoses and deaths from illicit drugs. Accessed 21 September 2021. .

Government of Canada. Safer supply. Accessed 21 September 2021.

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