An organization advocating for safer streets in Nanaimo says the province’s safe drug supply program isn’t working after finding dozens of prescription labels near a downtown pharmacy.
Collen Middleton, the organization’s chair, found his first prescription label on the ground in his neighbourhood in November. Since then he’s collected more than 80.
“I was really surprised,” said Middleton.
Most are for hydromorphone, one of the drugs prescribed as part of B.C.’s safe supply program that started in 2020 and expanded the following year.
Middleton found most labels close to a nearby pharmacy. He says he’s since learned drug addicts rip off the labels before selling them or trading them for the street drug of their choice. A street-entrenched person has even offered to sell Middleton hydromorphone or “dillies” to purchase while he walked near the pharmacy.
When out looking Thursday, Middleton found three more prescription labels.
“The concern is that the hydromorphone is being used as a commodity to trade to the street dealers for fentanyl and the hydromorphone is ending up in the hands of high school kids and students bringing more and more people into the depths of addiction,” said Middleton.
A clinical psychologist and distinguished professor at Simon Fraser University says prescribing powerful opioids to the drug-addicted without addressing housing and other health needs is dangerous.
“It is taking great chances with their health to be providing them with additional sources of addictive drugs rather than prioritizing [or] addressing some of these other not only modifiable, but needs that are integral to their suffering,” said Dr. Julian Somers.
Dr. Somers says according to the Standford Lancet Commission governments are cautioned against dispensing pharmaceutical drugs from vending machines in the hopes of displacing the illicit supply, but both things are occurring in B.C.
“We’re the only place on planet earth that is doing that,” said Dr. Somers.
The Nanaimo Network of Drug Users agrees the system is broken but it takes a very different view on what should be prescribed.
“There should be safe supply, of drugs whatever they need. It sounds bad but they’re going to get it regardless so it might as well be a safe supply,” said Chipper Baker who is on NANDU’s steering committee. He suggests the government should even be prescribing clean fentanyl or cocaine. According to him, drug diversion in Nanaimo is as high as 80 per cent.
In a statement, the Mental Health and Addictions Ministry says “The vast majority of prescribed safer supply does not get diverted…”
It goes on to say “Preliminary findings from the Risk Mitigation Guidance showed a 76 per cent decrease in mortality in persons receiving prescriptions for opioids.”
It says the Ministry is “contracting a team of experts assembled by the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria to undertake a two-year mixed methods evaluation of prescribed safer supply. The evaluation findings will capture key outcomes…”
“This is taxpayer money being used for these prescriptions,” said Middleton. “We need to see the provincial government and the BC Medical Association taking the issue of diversion very seriously because it is potentially propagating and amplifying the issue of the addiction crisis.”
Middleton says all these prescription labels show the system needs better guidelines and there needs to be more resources to help the addicted get off of drugs.