A Victoria doctor is calling on changes to be made to the safe supply program that was changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, then not changed back.
In B.C., an average of six people die every day due to an overdose as a result of a toxic supply of drugs. To combat this, some drug users are given a safe supply of drugs.
Prior to the pandemic, this safe supply was a “witnessed” safe supply, meaning the person it was prescribed to took the Dilaudid, a powerful medical-grade heroin, in front of a nurse.
During the pandemic, this was changed to an unwitnessed safe supply, and those prescribed were sent home to use the drugs.
Dr. Mark Mallet, a hospitalist at Victoria General Hospital, would like to see the program fine-tuned.
“The main message I’m trying to get out is the unwitnessed safe supply program, opioids, in particular, is causing a lot of diversion of those opioids. So those pills that are meant for the patient in front of the person who’s prescribing are going to other people, and it’s causing new addictions,” Mallet said in an interview with CHEK News.
“There is widespread acceptance that these pills are being diverted. Certainly some of the pills that are being handed out are being sold,” Mallet said.
And he said no one is tracking the thousands of diverted Dilaudid pills handed out every day.
A CHEK News team went to see how difficult it was to obtain Dilaudid in downtown Victoria, and within minutes were directed to a group selling them and were able to obtain five tablets of Dillies or Dilaudid, or by its pharmaceutical name, hydromorphone.
B.C.’s Chief Coroner, Lisa Lapointe, said the safe supply program is under review, but she says putting an end to it is not an option.
“We are at a time when we are losing six people every day and doing nothing is not an option. So the safer supply program is an innovation that is being measured, that is being evaluated,” Lapointe said.
But Mallet says it’s just too easy right now to pick up the powerful opioid.
“I know from people I’ve spoken with, teenagers as well as patients in the hospital, where some of these new addictions are starting. And I know the quantities of pills that are being put out on the street. It’s in the tens of thousands every day of these Dillies are going out on the street,” Mallet said.
Lapointe said the data doesn’t show that safe supply is killing people or leading to a rise in opioid use.
“I certainly understand his concerns. But we are evaluating, we are collecting data. We know that hydromorphone is not contributing to the deaths at this point and we know that the incidence of opioid usage disorder is not increasing across the province,” Lapointe said.
B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, is currently reviewing the safe supply program and her report is expected in October.