Ottawa in B.C. has approved a pilot program that will provide clean and free opioids to drug users as they please. The project is being hailed as one of the most radical efforts to combat the rising fentanyl infused drug supply that has killed over 1,000 people so far in 2017 alone.
Officials are still hashing out the details of the program but Mark Tyndall, executive director of the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), said the idea behind the program is that people at high risk of overdose will be able to register to pick up hydromorphone pills.
The pills will be available at supportive housing units or supervised consumption facilities, two or three times a day, and users will be able to self-administer them any way they desire. Most will probably choose to crush and snort or cook and inject them and that will be allowed.
Participants will however likely be required to consume the drug on-site initially but after an evaluation process, they will eventually be allowed to take perhaps a day's worth of their doses home at a time. The pilot program is set to start with around 200 participants in Vancouver and Victoria but the goal is to scale it up as soon as possible.
Dr. Tyndall went on to explain, "In the case that someone did divert their drugs, then at least the persons who received them would not be overdosing. Everyone must remember that it is very easy to buy drugs on the street right now so there is no way that diversion would make things worse."
It should be noted that this program is different from supervised injectable opioid assisted treatment, an intensive treatment option currently available on a small scale to a few people in B.C., Ontario, and Alberta. Injectable therapy is where a patient is able to visit a clinic two or three times a day to inject under direct supervision and does not allow doses to leave the facility.
The injectable opioid assisted treatment program was the first iteration of this idea that providing clean drugs in a safe environment will reduce overdose deaths and the spread of disease but currently, it costs anywhere up to $25,000 per person per year.
In contrast, the new pilot program will administer 8-milligram hydromorphone pills that cost 32 cents, or $700 for two pills three times a day for a year. It is set to begin in April of 2018 and run for a trial period of three years.
The Public Health Agency of Canada released new data showing that Canada is set to lose more than 4,000 people to opioid-related overdoses this year. In B.C., more than 1,200 have died from drug overdoses from January to October and fentanyl was a contributing factor in 1,000 of those cases.
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