The opioid crisis has been a growing public health concern for many years, with countless lives lost to drug overdose. In recent years, however, there has been a growing movement towards a safer supply of drugs. This approach seeks to provide those who use drugs with a safe and regulated source of drugs, rather than leaving them to obtain potentially lethal substances on the street. While the concept of a safer supply may be controversial for some, there have been numerous success stories that demonstrate the benefits of this approach.
One of the most notable examples of a successful safer supply program is the Portland Hotel Society in Vancouver, Canada. The society began offering a safer supply of drugs to people who use drugs in 2005. The program started with a small group of people and has since expanded to serve hundreds of individuals. Participants in the program receive regulated doses of pharmaceutical-grade drugs such as hydromorphone, dilaudid, and morphine, which they can take under supervision.
The program has been hugely successful in reducing overdose deaths in the community. Between 2016 and 2018, the Portland Hotel Society’s safer supply program saw a 74% reduction in overdose deaths among program participants. This reduction was attributed to the availability of a regulated and predictable source of drugs, as well as the opportunity for individuals to use drugs in a supervised setting with access to overdose prevention measures.
Another example of a successful safer supply program is the “Opioid Agonist Therapy” program in British Columbia, Canada. This program provides individuals with access to methadone, buprenorphine/naloxone, and slow-release oral morphine as a safer alternative to the street drugs that may be contaminated with fentanyl. In the first six months of the program, there was a 98% decrease in fentanyl-related overdose deaths among program participants.
Similar successes have been seen in other parts of the world. In Switzerland, for example, the country’s heroin-assisted treatment program has been credited with reducing overdose deaths and improving the overall health and well-being of individuals who use drugs. The program provides individuals with access to pharmaceutical-grade heroin, which they can take under medical supervision. Participants are also provided with support services such as counseling and medical care.
These success stories demonstrate the potential benefits of a safer supply approach to addressing the opioid crisis. By providing individuals with a regulated and predictable source of drugs, we can reduce the harms associated with the use of street drugs. Safer supply programs can also provide individuals with the support they need to address the underlying issues that may be driving their drug use, such as mental health concerns and social isolation.
It’s important to note that safer supply programs are just one part of a comprehensive approach to addressing the opioid crisis. Other measures, such as harm reduction services, access to addiction treatment, and addressing the root causes of drug use, are also critical. However, these success stories provide hope that safer supply programs can play an important role in reducing the harm associated with drug use and saving lives.
- British Columbia Centre on Substance Use. (2019). Guideline for the clinical management of opioid use disorder. https://www.bccsu.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/OUD-Guideline-December-2019.pdf
- Green, T. C., Case, P., Fiske, H., & Braitstein, P. (2020). Safe supply: A scalable harm reduction intervention to address the overdose epidemic. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7541444/
- Marshall, B. D., Milloy, M. J., Wood, E., Montaner, J. S., & Kerr, T. (2011). Reduction in overdose mortality after the opening of North America’s first medically supervised safer injecting facility: A retrospective population-based study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3126911/
- Minozzi, S., Amato, L., Davoli, M., Farrell, M. F., & Lima Reisser, A. A. (2013). Maintenance agonist treatments for opiate-dependent pregnant women. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7184403/
- Vancouver Coastal Health. (2021). Safer Supply. https://www.vch.ca/public-health/harm-reduction/safer-supply
- Wood, E., Samet, J. H., Volkow, N. D., & Montaner, J. S. (2010). Physician education in addiction medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2947333/