Erica Thomson, a former heroin user and now advocate, shares her story that led her to calling for an end to drug prohibition at a news conference in Vancouver on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)

Erica Thomson, a former heroin user and now advocate, shares her story that led her to calling for an end to drug prohibition at a news conference in Vancouver on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)

Overdose crisis

Sell regulated heroin to curb B.C.’s overdose problem: report

B.C. Centre on Substance Use points to organized crime and money-laundering as contributing factors

Legally regulated heroin sales is the next step needed to curb the staggering number of overdose deaths in B.C. – a majority of which were caused by illicit fentanyl, a new report says.

The report, released Thursday by the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, includes findings from public health researchers, addictions specialists and people with experience of substance use and recovery.

Dr. Evan Wood, executive director at the Vancouver-based centre, told reporters that fentanyl poisonings, money-laundering affecting the housing market, and organized crime are “fraying” the province.

“As an addiction medicine physician and someone who has spent my career studying solutions to the challenges of addiction, I believe the only path forward for better preventing and treating opioid addiction is to wage economic war on organized crime and to regulate and control the heroin market,” Wood said.

There have been nearly 3,000 deaths from illicit drug overdoses in B.C. since 2017, with roughly 85 per cent caused by illicit fentanyl.

The report recommends the province establish “heroin compassion clubs” to fentanyl-addicted people access to non-fentanyl-adulterated heroin. These clubs would be located near treatment facilities, and potentially involve recommended training for naloxone kits, which are used to reverse overdoses.

Health Canada would need to approve the model, by providing an exemption either to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for research or public health reasons or through another regulation that has allowed B.C. to import injectable pharmaceutical-grade heroin from Switzerland.

READ MORE: B.C. opioid overdoses still killing four people a day, health officials say

READ MORE: New in-depth report sheds light on who in B.C. is dying of drug overdoses

Wood said at least one Vancouver pharmaceutical company that has voiced interest in manufacturing medical-grade heroin. The Crosstown Clinic is the only clinic in the country approved to run a provincially-funded heroin maintenance program. Roughly 130 patients are using injectable diacetylmorphine – the active ingredient in heroin.

Dean Wilson was 13 when he first started using heroin. He went through 50 years of drug use before moving to treatment, now relying on methadone.

“I’ve lasted, I’ve made it through, but what’s killing me is that all my friends are dying,” said Wilson, who is now a peer-support worker at the centre. “If this was car accidents, speeds would be reduced to five kilometres an hour.”

The revenue generated through sales in a compassion club model would be redirected in-house to provide access and supports for the most vulnerable, Wood said.

B.C.’s provincial health officer and chief coroner both called for the federal government to allow the province to offer access to legal heroin earlier this month.

“We have certainly had many conversations with the federal government on the issue of decriminalization,” said Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy on Thursday after receiving the report. “They aren’t showing a lot of appetite for that at the present time.”

In an email to Black Press Media, Health Canada said it remains committed to working with the provinces and territories to increase access to evidence-based treatment. It also pointed to its providing $1.4 million for a pilot project in B.C. aimed at expanding access to safer alternatives to street drugs.


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Almost every health region in the province saw an increase in overdose calls last year. (Blackpress files)
Overdose call numbers reach five-year-high in Maple Ridge.

BC Emergency Health Services responded to almost 500 local calls in 2020

Cam Blake released his first album called <em>Bad Vacation</em> on Jan. 15. (Special to The News)
Maple Ridge musician releases first album

Cam Blake’s first album, Bad Vacation, released Jan. 15

Members of the Maple Ridge Disc Golf Club team up to update the “frolf” course at Thornhill Park. (Special to The News)
Maple Ridge Disc Golf Club helps upgrade local course

Thornhill Park frisbee links usage has skyrocketed since pandemic

Cody Malawsky at the box lacrosse provincials in 2019. As the highly skilled player adds size he will dominate junior, predicts longtime coach Daren Fridge. (Tim McCormick/Special to The News)
Ridge Meadows Hospice Society volunteer Jill Constable. (Ridge Meadows Hospice Society/Special to The News)
Ridge Meadows Hospice celebrating 25 years

Celebratory White Dove Dinner raising money for support and grief programs

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

The Elk Valley Hospital is adapting to meet the needs of patients in the Elk Valley.
1-in-5 COVID tests coming back positive in and around Fernie, sparking concern

Dr Ron Clark of Elk Valley Hospital said one in five tests was returning positive for COVID-19

Throughout December, RCMP conducted CounterAttack road checks as police worked to keep roads free of impaired drivers. (BLACK PRESS file photo)
‘You can’t make this stuff up’: Stories from the B.C. CounterAttack campaign

Amusing, yes, but a reminder impaired driving affects ability to drive and to make good decisions

Snow is forecasted to appear in parts of Metro Vancouver this weekend. (Black Press Media files)
Snow forecasted for parts of Lower Mainland this weekend

Environment Canada is predicting flurries and snow from Saturday to Monday evening

Most Read