The crucial talk about the validity of the safe supply of opioids falls on deaf ears

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Opinion: Safe-supply advocates say making prescription drugs available would solve Canada’s opioid overdose crisis. But Alberta politicians want proof.

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It’s a testament to the times: instead of debating, Canadians retreat into exasperated silence, comforted by echo chambers created by social media algorithms.

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There was valid criticism of politicians, journalists and others who – instead of listening – mocked people concerned about COVID-19 vaccinations and pandemic-related restrictions.

But this is not about this pandemic. It’s about Canada’s other deadlier public health crisis, the overdose epidemic, which killed 24,626 Canadians between January 2016 and June 2021.

Overdose deaths have been increasing annually, and without major intervention, 2022 is on track to be another record year, according to Statistics Canada.

But there has been no national debate on what those interventions should be, including the latest panacea called “safe” or “safer care,” which has been strongly advocated by many influential British Columbians, including the province’s health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, and Chief Medical Examiner Lisa Lapointe, senior officials from the Department of Health and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart.

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Other active supporters are:

• dr Perry Kendall, former provincial health secretary, former co-director of the federally funded BC Center on Substance Use, and co-owner of FP Pharma Inc., a company founded to manufacture diacetylmorphine, or injectable heroin.

• dr Martin Schechter, CEO of FP Pharma and registered lobbyist.

• dr Mark Tyndall, who provides hydromorphone to 70 people through MySafe machines in Vancouver and Victoria.

• A former director of the BC Center on Substance Use, Dr. Evan Wood, who is now the chief medical officer at Numinus Wellness, a public psychedelics company.

In March 2020, BC became the first jurisdiction in the world to offer addicts free pharmaceutical-grade heroin, benzodiazepines, methamphetamines and alcohol on prescription, but without the requirement that they be taken under medical supervision.

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This unprecedented harm reduction experiment received special approval from the Federal Minister of Health and was implemented on Henry’s pandemic-related orders.

But 2020 and 2021 were BC’s worst years ever. Overdose deaths rose 26 percent last year from a record 2020 figure.

Although there’s no evidence it’s working, advocates are now pushing to extend safe supply to the rest of Canada as part of a package that would also decriminalize – or legalize, all drugs for personal use, depending on who you’re with to speak.

With the prospect of making it a national program, the Alberta government did not so much interfere in the debate as decided to force one.

On Tuesday, a legislative committee began hearing testimonies from invited experts for three days.

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Absent were the four members of the NDP committee, who had previously resigned and described the hearings as a “extended political stunt”. But they also gave up the option of calling their own experts.

Advocacy groups — BC-based Moms Stop the Harm and Each and Every — also refused to get involved. A letter to the committee said “critical omissions” among the selected experts “betray (betray) irrefutable bias. . . that lends itself to building consensus to maintain the status quo.”

Local journalists were also absent.

While it’s true that none of the experts scheduled are committed to ensuring safe care, people like Dr. Far from being wild radicals, the Keith Humphreys are not defenders of a status quo that is clearly failing.

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Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University and chair of the 17-member Stanford-Lancet Commission on the North American Opioid Crisis.

Commission recommendations include: universal access within the health system to recovery-oriented addiction support, pharmaceutical opioids such as buprenorphine and hydromorphone for all patients with opioid use disorder under clinical supervision, and spending on the healthy development of young people, especially poor communities.

“I worry that if we give them pills and send them away instead of getting them involved and helping them find a different kind of life, we’re underestimating people’s ability to recover,” Humphreys said when he was asked about their concerns about safe care.

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He explained that what sparked the opioid crisis was community oversupply after prescription opioids surged 400 percent, fueled by Purdue Pharma’s zealous marketing.

The company falsely claimed OxyContin was a low-risk, non-addictive pain reliever that would be used only by the person prescribed and had broader public health benefits.

Overprescribing fueled addiction and led to the move to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which were manufactured and sold by illegal dealers in response to users’ demand for stronger drugs as their opioid tolerance increased.

“Legally manufacturing and prescribing it didn’t make it safe,” Humphreys said. “And underestimating the risks was dangerous and, in some cases, criminal.”

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But the research cited in the commission’s 579-page report showed that the risk of addiction increased in a household where someone had an OxyContin prescription.

It means, Humphreys said, “The patient becomes a vector for more people to become addicted.”

However, he noted that advocates of safe supply use the same message. It’s safe, low-risk, and beneficial to the community.

Several BC experts spoke about diverting safe supplies to the streets of hydromorphone, which addicts sell to pay for the stronger fentanyl.

Vancouver addiction specialist Maire Durnin-Goodman said her patients had spoken out about dealers buying it and shipping it to Newfoundland and Yukon via Canada Post for resale.

Simon Fraser University psychology professor Julian Somers was the opening speaker before the Alberta committee. Along with former BC NDP Premier Mike Harcourt and psychiatrist Dr. To Bill McEwan he has proposed a $37 million supportive housing project that would provide comprehensive services for the most dependent and mentally disabled addicts that would include supervised drug supply as part of that treatment.

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Nine months later they are still awaiting a response from the BC government.

Given the lack of evidence that BC’s secure supply strategy is working, one can’t help but wonder at the vain certainty of the people who won’t show up, make their case, or even listen.

[email protected]

Twitter: @bramham_daphne

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