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A Canadian first as B.C. introduces new prescribed safer supply policy

The province is expanding access to prescribed safer drug supply.

It’s directing up to $22.6 million to the health authorities over the next three years. 

The money will go towards supporting the planning, phased implementation, monitoring and evaluation of prescribed safer supply services.

“For people who use drugs or who care about someone who does, the risk of death is omnipresent because of the increasingly toxic illicit drug supply,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. 

“At the start of the pandemic, B.C. provided access to some prescribed safer supply medications to save lives from overdose and protect people from COVID-19. Building on what we’ve learned, we’re expanding access to prescribed safer supply to reach more people and save more lives. This is one tool within a comprehensive response to the overdose crisis as we continue to also build up a treatment system so everyone can get the care they need. There is more to do, and we won’t stop working until we turn this crisis around.”

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The province says a prescribed safer supply is about meeting people where they are at, connecting people to health-care services, and reducing harms associated with using illicit drugs.

Once fully implemented, at-risk drug users will be able to access alternatives covered by Pharmacare, including a range of opioids and stimulants as determined by programs and prescribers.

“With more than 7,000 lives lost to toxic illicit drugs, we need new measures to connect people to the supports they need to stay safe,” said provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. 

“Reducing harm for people who use drugs is the right thing to do. Bringing in this new policy to expand prescribed safer supply is a big change for B.C.’s health-care system. It’s about meeting people where they are at, reducing risk of toxic drug death and connecting people to the care they need and deserve.”

The ministry is introducing this policy following, it says, “months of work with partners and stakeholders, including medical doctors, nurses, pharmacists, people with lived and living experience, the First Nations Health Authority and all regional health authorities, and Indigenous-led organizations.:

The policy was developed within the limits of the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which requires controlled substances be provided by prescription.

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It will be rolled out through a phased approach, beginning with implementing the policy in existing health-authority funded programs that currently prescribe alternatives to illicit drugs (e.g., opioid agonist treatment, oral and injectable tablet programs) and through newly created programs such as service hubs and outreach teams. 

Prescribed safer supply services will also be delivered through the federally funded Safer programs.

The first phase is expected to be in place for 18 to 24 months as data is collected to assess this approach.

The province says it’s investing $330 million over the next three years in the overdose crisis. 

Of that, $133 million goes toward treatment and recovery services to help people find their path to wellness. 

In 2021-22, the total operating expenditures for mental health and addictions services are more than $2.7 billion.

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