New public health order to help slow B.C's overdose crisis
Western Canada

New public health order to help slow B.C’s overdose crisis

The drug overdose crisis in B.C is at an all time record high

VICTORIA – To help stop overdoses and save lives, B.C provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, has issued a public health order to increase the number of health professionals authorized to help people at risk for overdose access safer alternatives to the toxic street drug supply, as B.C. works to update prescribing guidance.

New public health order to help slow B.C's overdose crisis

“We know the pandemic has only made the street drug supply in B.C. more toxic than ever, putting people who use drugs at extremely high risk for overdose,” Henry said. “Giving physicians and nurse practitioners the ability to prescribe safer pharmaceutical alternatives has been critical to saving lives and linking more people to treatment and other health and social services. I am issuing a provincial health officer order to expand the health professionals who are able to provide safer, accessible alternatives to the toxic street drug supply and help more people find their pathway to hope.”

The order, issued under the Health Professions Act, authorizes registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses to prescribe pharmaceutical alternatives to street drugs to help separate more people from the poisoned street drug supply to save lives and provide opportunities for ongoing care, treatment and support. New nursing standards will be introduced, along with training and education, and access to expert consultation and pathways to connect people to broader addictions and primary care. 

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, B.C. was making progress and overdose deaths were coming down for the first time since 2012,” said Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “We’re seeing these tragic spikes in deaths across Canada, but I’m proud that we’re the only government responding across the full continuum of care by providing more overdose prevention services and outreach teams, doubling youth treatment beds, increasing adult beds and counselling services. And today, we’re announcing a significant expansion of access to safer prescription alternatives to the toxic drug supply. Each life lost to overdose is a tragedy and we are taking every preventative measure possible to save more lives and connect more people to treatment and supportive services.”

In addition to the public health order, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and the Ministry of Health are working with the Office of the Provincial Health Officer to develop an updated policy directive for prescribers and health authorities, which builds on the existing risk mitigation clinical guidance released in March 2020 in partnership with the BC Centre on Substance Use.

New public health order to help slow B.C's overdose crisis

The policy directive is being urgently finalized and is expected to be released as soon as possible in order to:

  • expand eligibility criteria to prioritize reducing overdose events and deaths, and reach individuals with opioid-use disorder, other substance-use disorders or individuals with a history of accessing the toxic street drug supply who are at high risk of overdose and other drug-related harms;
  • carefully expand the types of medications that can be prescribed and dispensed by doctors, pharmacists and nurses;
  • increase access points to allow for dispensing medications from health authorities and community pharmacies; and
  • continue to commit to ongoing evaluation and monitoring and support evidence-based care planning.

The policy will continue to place a strong emphasis on clinicians working with people who use drugs on their individual goals, including opportunities – as people stabilize – to access substance-use services, such as harm reduction, treatment, counselling and mental health supports and recovery-oriented services.  

People with substance-use disorder and addictions can currently access safer pharmaceutical alternatives by talking to their doctor, nurse practitioner, community care team or by calling 811. People will be engaged by trained clinicians who follow core principles and standards of care, including culturally safe practices and trauma-informed care that put people’s needs and goals first.

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