Recovering drug addicts are telling Canadians that ‘safer supply’ does not save lives, as those abusing drugs are likely to abuse the policy.
On two separate occasions, The National Post interviewed six patients at the Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) Clinic in London, Ontario on the efficacy of harm reduction.
These programs typically distribute hydromorphone in place of fentanyl — an opioid with similar potency to heroin.
Among them is Laura, a 29-year-old woman with an addiction to crystal meth, who said roughly 80% of addicts who access ‘safer supply’ will sell their pills for cash or trade outright for fentanyl.
Those users would set up camps by hydromorphone dispensaries to sell their stock and get their next fentanyl fix quickly.
Over two dozen physicians and addiction experts signed an open letter earlier this month to federal Addictions Minister Ya’ara Saks, citing “widespread evidence” that people who access ‘safer supply’ sites end up selling much of their hydromorphone on the black market.
Selling the ‘free’ hydromorphone “provides a significant source of income” for addicts to purchase more potent opioids, such as fentanyl.
“People will come up to you with their Dilaudids — the brand name for hydromorphone — […] and ask to do a trade for fentanyl. Either I could at the time or I couldn’t,” said Laura.
Of the nearly 50 people she knew with regular access to ‘safe supply,’ only one quit fentanyl, but they eventually relapsed.
All six recovering addicts told The National Post that ‘safe supply’ is widely abused, with trickling impacts on teenage users.
Without reform, diverted hydromorphone will continue to “flood our streets,” reads the open letter, leading to rising addiction among teenagers and increasing illicit fentanyl use.
Steve, a 40-year-old user, said “10 years ago, Dilaudids were $20 a piece. And now you can get them for $2 because there’s such a high amount out there.”
According to Steve, pharmacies that distribute ‘safer supply’ drugs have “an endless supply” that organized crime and fellow users frequently abuse.
Dozens of addiction experts attributed hydromorphone, the drug distributed by ‘safer supply’ instead of fentanyl, as not sufficiently potent to get fentanyl users high.
They widely claimed that users only consume enough hydromorphone to pass urine and traffic tests, and youth will purchase 'hard drugs' on the black market at a 70% to 95% discount in areas with ‘safer supply.’
Jennifer, an Indigenous woman, said users sell their hydromorphone, which amplifies social issues on reserves and devastates First Nation kids.
“The buyer goes downtown in the morning, grabs a bunch of pills, takes them out there and gives them to our people,” she said, with “a lot of kids” getting hooked and overdosing on hydromorphone.
Off reserve, Port Coquitlam teen Madison became addicted to hydromorphone at the age of 13. Her addiction progressed to fentanyl — nearly costing her life on several occasions.
After two years of drug abuse, Madison is now in recovery and driven to inform Canadians that addiction is rampant among teens in Port Coquitlam, reported The Bureau.
Madison, and many like her, attribute Canada's "safer supply" and harm-reduction programs as the cause of their grievances. B.C. became the first province in Canada to implement a ‘safer supply’ program in 2021.
On January 31, Health Canada granted B.C. a subsection 56(1) exemption for three years under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize the possession of up to 2.5 grams of heroin, crack, cocaine, fentanyl, MDMA and meth.
The Commons last May 29 upheld the policy by a 209 to 113 vote, with only Conservative MPs calling for cabinet to "immediately reverse its deadly policies and redirect all funds from the taxpayer-funded hard drug programs to addiction treatment and recovery."
B.C.'s October 2021 submission to Health Canada considered "illicit drug poisoning the leading cause of death amongst British Columbians aged 19 to 39."
When asked about opioid addiction, British Columbians — the only Canadians to be surveyed — called it a significant worry contributing to disorder in their province, reported Blacklock's Reporter.
Several focus groups viewed the 2.5 gram limit as “far too high” for substances like fentanyl and would "ultimately result in the increased usage […] among younger adults," the report noted.
“All believed this to be a significant issue, and many were of the view that rising rates of addiction had contributed to increased crime in their communities,” said Continuous Qualitative Data Collection Of Canadians' Views.
Since the COVID pandemic, B.C. has suffered more overdose fatalities than ever before — exceeding combined deaths from homicides, suicides, accidents and natural diseases in recent years.
Fentanyl fatalities have increased year-over-year since the COVID pandemic.
Since April 2016, drug overdoses have killed 12,264 people in B.C. and over 32,000 people nationwide. Health Canada blamed fentanyl for the overwhelming majority (76%) of those deaths.
Fentanyl, or one of its substitutes, caused 90% of B.C.’s illicit drug deaths recorded in June, according to provincial data. Of the fatal overdoses reported this year, the province linked 85% of deaths to fentanyl.