The federal and provincial governments are partnering with Island Health in announcing $2 million dollars in funding for a pilot project to help at-risk populations during the opioid crisis.

Federal Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu, BC Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy, and Chief Medical Health Officer with Island Health Dr. Richard Stanwick made the announcement.

The project will provide pharmaceutical-grade medication as a safe alternative to the toxic illegal drug supply for people in the Cowichan Valley who haven’t responded to other forms of treatment for opioid use disorders.

“We know that providing safe prescription alternatives to the highly toxic and illegal drug supply is critical to stabilize people who are at great risk. We’re thrilled that this project will build on the work our government has been doing to separate people who use substances from the increasingly toxic street supply and give them the best chance to find their own pathway to healing and recovery,” said Darcy.

This project allows certain patients at risk of overdose to have access to hydromorphone tablets at the Cowichan Valley Wellness and Recovery Centre, which will be administered by a licensed prescriber. The patients receive critical wrap-around services, such as peer support, medical care, mental health support, and a personal support plan. This project is a four-year pilot that will provide valuable evidence to support the development of best practices for safer supply programs.

“It has never been more important to provide harm reduction and treatment services to people who use drugs. It is devastating to see that the pandemic has worsened the situation for Canadians struggling with substance use disorders in many parts of the country, including Vancouver Island communities in British Columbia. Providing a safer alternative to street drugs will save lives and help people in Cowichan Valley access treatment and other supports,” said Hadju.

The pandemic has resulted in several drug users being forced to use along due to safety protocols put in place and Island Health introduced the LifeGuard App in May, an app that drug users activate before taking a dose.

After 50 seconds, the app will sound an alarm and the user hits the button to stop it, however, if they don’t stop it, it grows louder after 75 seconds and a text-to-voice call goes to 9-1-1.

While the Coronavirus pandemic has seen 189 British Columbians die since mid-March, opioid overdose deaths hit 170 in May alone and the BC Coroners Service notes that that is a 93 percent increase over last May.