Victoria councillors push for access to safe drugs

A motion coming to council would ask the province for easier access to opioid alternatives

People addicted to opioids may soon have an alternative option to street drugs. (File photo)

Victoria City councillors are advocating for better access to drugs for those living with an opioid addiction.

In a motion coming to council on Thursday, Coun. Sarah Potts, Coun. Jeremy Loveday, Coun. Marianne Alto and Coun. Ben Isitt will ask the city to work with the province and Island Health to supply people with more access to opioid alternatives.

“A safer drug supply means people are able to obtain drugs in quantities that they want at a toxicity that is known,” said Potts. “This predictability will save lives while putting individuals in contact with social services and health care and out of contact with those involved in the illicit drug trade.”

READ MORE: Youngest opioid overdose victim in B.C. last year was 10 years old

There are currently three clinics in Victoria which offer opioid replacements like methadone and suboxone, which are designed to minimize withdrawal symptoms for people trying to wean off of an opioid addiction.

What the city is pushing for, and what the province is launching in various locations, is easier access to hydromorphone –also known as its brand name Dilaudid– to act as alternative opioid option for those who are not ready to seek treatment yet.

“Hydromorphone is an opioid,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, a provincial health officer with the Ministry of Health and Addictions. “It’s a regulated prescription of pharmaceutical grade. We’ve been working on offering people who are addicted to opioids a safer supply… It’s a way to keep people alive.”

READ MORE: B.C. pharmacists to undergo specialized opioid training

Hydromorphone comes in both pill and injectable form, with effects that can last between six and eight hours. Dr. Henry argued that by removing the struggle to access drugs, there will be less turmoil in people’s lives and a drastically reduced chance of overdose or death. This in turn would allow people with addictions the time to stabilize themselves to the point that they are ready to seek treatment.

Pilot projects in Vancouver, including the Insite Supervised Injection Site and the Providence Crosstown Clinic have been offering opioid replacements and seen positive results, and last week Providence launched its own hydromorphone pilot.

“People who used Insite were 40 per cent more likely to go into recovery, and petty crime rates around the facilities went down dramatically,” said Dr. Henry. “This is a harm reduction approach; we’re giving people a known quantity because now the issue is the street drugs are so contaminated, and you never know what you’re going to get.”

READ MORE: Victoria woman shares her painful experience with opioid addiction

Hydromorphone is pharmaceutic ally produced, inexpensive– totalling 40-50 cents per pill– and readily available.

The next challenge, Dr. Henry said, is to make access to hydromorphone even more low barrier than before.

ALSO READ: B.C. opioid crisis to get same world-renowned treatment approach as HIV/AIDS

At this point, people will still need to go to clinics and go through an intake process, where more ideally public health nurses will be able to go onto the streets and do assessments to make people more aware of the option.

Dr. Henry noted that the program is not intended to promote the use of addictive drugs.

“These are people who are already addicted, and not everyone is at the place where they are able to think of recovery.”

If the motion is passed, it will be presented to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities and the Union of B.C. Municipalities before going reaching the province for further action.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

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