The provincial government has introduced a policy to separate people from the toxic illicit drug supply, by giving drug users access to safer alternatives.

This change comes after the overdose crisis continues to claim over 100 lives per month. According to the BC Coroners Service, 851 people across the province died from toxic drugs in 2021 up to May, with 1,728 people dying from the same reason through 2020.

$22.6-million will go to health authorities over a three-year time frame to lay the groundwork for the program. Initial work will include planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of prescribed safer supply services.

Once fully implemented, those at high risk of dying from toxic drugs will be able to access Pharmacare-covered alternatives, including a range of opioids and stimulants, as decided by the programs and their prescribers.

The first phase of this new program will be in place for 18 to 24 months to collect data and assess the approach.

It will begin with the policy through existing pathways that currently prescribe alternatives to illicit drugs, such as opioid agonist treatment, oral and injectable tablet programs.

New programs will also be set up through service hubs and outreach teams.

Further phases will allow expanded access to a safer supply.

The phased approach will allow for more thorough monitoring and evaluation to lead future guidance for the program.

“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. “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.”

B.C. Government officials said the new policy is meant to reduce stigma and enhance support for people who use drugs.

“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 Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer. “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 healthcare 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.”

Officials with the B.C. government note that this is the first program of its kind in Canada.