B.C. Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy speaks to reporters at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 24, 2020. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

COLUMN: Helping those who use substances during the COVID-19 pandemic

B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy talks about both public health emergencies

By Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions

B.C. is currently in the midst of two major public health emergencies. The first is the on-going overdose crisis, and while overall death rates have started to come down, it continues to take a heart-breaking toll on families and communities across B.C. The second, of course, is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has drastically changed all our lives.

During this unprecedented time, it is critically important that we take extra care of each other, especially the most vulnerable people in our communities. We need to protect individual and community health and safety, and that includes protecting people who are at dual risk of COVID-19 and fentanyl poisoning.

If you are struggling with addiction, if you are homeless or under-housed, or if you have to visit a clinic or pharmacy to receive medications every single day, following Dr. Bonnie Henry’s orders on physical distancing or self-isolation can feel almost impossible. And with an increasingly toxic street drug supply, people who use drugs are at considerable risk during the pandemic.

That’s why, as soon as Health Canada provided exemptions under the Controlled Substances Act, the Province and the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) acted quickly to release new clinical guidance for physicians, nurse practitioners and pharmacists to help people experiencing the symptoms of withdrawal, and people at risk of overdose and/or at risk of COVID-19 infection.

ALSO READ: Mental Health, we’re in it together

Now, across the province, safe prescription alternatives to the unpredictable and toxic drug supply can be safely prescribed and delivered to those in greatest need. Importantly, this includes providing safer alternatives for people with addictions to alcohol, opioids, tobacco, stimulants, and benzodiazepines. While we are making access to safer prescription medications easier – through virtual care, flexible delivery by pharmacies, and other measures – we are also helping to flatten the curve of COVID-19.

The new provincial guidance is practical and evidence-informed. It is rooted in the fact that addiction is a health issue, not a moral failing – and that people living with addiction deserve the same dignity, respect and access to quality care as people living with any other health condition. The provincial guidance is about safety and health during two public health emergencies – period.

It takes courage to reach out and ask for help. But I want to encourage anyone who is facing these challenges, or knows someone who is, to talk to their health care provider. In order to benefit from the new guidance, people don’t need to have been accessing substance use treatment already. People living with addiction shouldn’t have to risk their lives to get the safe prescription medication they need.

In the coming months, we will continue to work hard to make life safer for people at risk as we navigate dual public health emergencies. No matter where you might be on your own journey – if you are accessing an overdose prevention service, or have just started on medication assisted treatment, or have been in recovery for many years – each person should be supported on their own unique pathway to healing and hope.

At this time of so much uncertainty – with a global pandemic on top of a fentanyl poisoning crisis – we need to look out for each other now more than ever.

We can’t afford to stop caring about one health care crisis as we stare down another.

To find out if the guidance could help you or a loved one, talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner, or call 811 to be directed to supports in your region. A summary of the guidance can be found at bccsu.ca/covid-19.

ALSO READ: A special report on mental health in Greater Victoria


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Coronavirusopioid crisis

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

Just Posted

test tube with the blood test is on the table next to the documents. Positive test for coronavirus covid-19. The concept of fighting a dangerous Chinese disease.
Interior Health records third COVID-19 death

A new community outbreak was reported at Okanagan Men’s Centre in Lake Country

The Spences Bridge Improvement District is looking for someone to fill the position of fire chief, and is also looking for people willing to stand as a candidate for the SBID board; elections will take place at the AGM on Nov. 28. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)
Candidates for trustee, fire chief wanted in Spences Bridge

Elections will be held during Spences Bridge Improvement District AGM on Nov. 28

Looking west from the Mesa to the Ashcroft Reserve at the start of the Elephant Hill wildfire, July 7, 2017. Students at Desert Sands Community School are looking to interview locals about their direct experience with the 2017 wildfires. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)
Students looking for people to share their 2017 wildfire stories

Desert Sands Community School students want to speak with residents about wildfire experiences

BC 2020 election graphic
Elections BC estimates 52% of BC voters cast a ballot this year

Results are down from 2017, and final counts will have to wait until mail-in ballots are tallied

An operator works to clear the culvert at Quartz Road in Cache Creek during flooding in April 2020. The Village of Cache Creek is looking for local contractors who want to go on a list for any work (emergency and non-emergency) that is needed. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)
Village of Cache Creek calling all contractors willing to work

Plus a Halloween drive-in movie event, an AGM, Christmas market news, and more

Physical distancing signs are a common sight in B.C. stores and businesses. THE CANADIAN PRESS
272 more COVID-19 cases for B.C., outbreak at oil sands project

Three new health care outbreaks, three declared over

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Most Read