Vancouver businesses call for B.C. government to respond to fentanyl with expanded access to clean drugs

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      An umbrella group of Vancouver businesses owners has issued a call for an expansion of controversial harm-reduction programs, including prescription heroin and other ways for addicts to access clean drugs.

      “Over the past several years, our province, and Vancouver, predominantly, have been overwhelmed by the deadly opioid crisis, now claiming over four deaths per day in B.C.,” begins an open letter by the Vancouver BIA Partnership, which is comprised of 22 business improvement associations based in the City of Vancouver.

      “Our business owners and frontline staff are finding overdose victims in their washrooms or on their doorsteps on a daily basis, and even more are dealing with the increasing disorder of rampant public urination, defecation, and the hazardous materials discarded on and around our commercial streets and laneways,” it continues. “The Vancouver BIA Partnership supports an immediate expansion of opioid treatment options, including injectable therapy programs like those at the Crosstown Clinic.”

      The Vancouver BIA Partnership says it wants people who struggle with severe addictions to opioids to be able to access clean drugs via the health-care system so that they will not be forced to purchase unknown substances from dealers on the street.

      Such services are already operating in Vancouver, but only on a small scale.

      At Crosstown Clinic at West Hastings and Abbott streets, Providence Health Care’s Dr. Scott MacDonald and his team provide about 100 long-time addicts with prescribed doses of injectable heroin (which is administered under its medical name, diacetylmorphine).

      And at Pier Pharmacy on Main Street, the Portland Hotel Society’s Dr. Christy Sutherland treats approximately 20 patients with hydromorphone (sold under the brand name Dilaudid), a synthetic opioid that’s very similar to diacetylmorphine.

      The Vancouver BIA Partnership explains the benefits of such programs in the letter it released today (September 28).

      “There is growing consensus from healthcare based community partners, as well as the federal government that, for drug users who do not respond well to traditional treatments, injectable opioid assisted treatment reduces the use of illicit drugs, and thus, reduces the likelihood of death by overdose,” it reads. “These treatment options are radically underfunded, yet have incredible potential to curb the overdose crisis, improve our addictions system of care, and save taxpayer money. The average patient at Crosstown Clinic costs $27,000 per year, while that person would cost taxpayers an estimated $45,000 a year in petty crime, policing and court costs, jail time and reactive health care costs.”

      Travis Lupick / B.C. Coroners Service

      Since 2012, the number of fatal overdoses in the city of Vancouver has increased from 65 to more than 400 projected for this year. During the first seven months of 2017, the synthetic-opioid fentanyl was detected in 81 percent of illicit-drug-overdose deaths in B.C.

      The BIAs’ letter, which is signed by Landon Hoyt, executive director of the Hastings Crossing BIA, states it has brought the umbrella organization’s call for action to the attention of B.C. premier John Horgan and Judy Darcy, who is B.C.’s first minister of mental health and addictions.

      “Taking these measures will dramatically improve the health and long-term wellbeing of local drug users, making our world class city and the businesses that bolster our communities safer for everyone,” it reads.

      At Crosstown Clinic in the Downtown Eastside, patients receive prescription heroin in a medicalized setting.
      Amanda Siebert