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

Matthew Campbell, director of the Fraser Valley Regional Food Bank, stands amongst a large amount of non-perishable food and household items being stored inside the Pacific Community Church. This year’s ‘Halloween For Hunger’ food drive, put on by students at Clayton Heights, will go to benefit the Fraser Valley Regional Food Bank. (Photo: Malin Jordan)
Clayton Heights Secondary kicks off annual ‘Halloween for Hunger’ event

Students to collect much-needed items for food bank

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
Bill Fraser Health for excessive mental-health-related police time at White Rock hospital: top cop

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

Left, Rowena Leivo early on in her volunteer career with the South Surrey/White Rock Food Bank. Right, Leivo in the food bank Tuesday. (Contributed photos)
After 34 years, ‘The Boss’ retires from South Surrey Food Bank volunteer gig

Rowena Leivo, 90, spent a third of her life volunteering at the food bank

Ali Watson in Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of “No Child…,” which plays until Nov. 8. (photo: Moonrider Productions)
Viewers of Arts Club’s streaming plays support Surrey Civic Theatres

Company’s ‘bubble method’ of theatre production means just 50 in-person tickets for each performance

John Horgan brought the NDP campaign to Langley on Wednesday, Oct. 21, just three days before the B.C. vote (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Horgan brings NDP campaign to Langley

Predicts gains, says people are looking at the party ‘differently’ after three years

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

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

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Rio Tinto Alcan’s aluminum smelter at Kitimat competes against producers in the Middle East and Russia that have no carbon tax. (Rio Tinto)
B.C. carbon tax highest in Canada, export industries unprotected

B.C. NDP, B.C. Liberals say they’re looking at exemptions

In this file photo, snow is seen falling along the Coquihalla Highway. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)
Weather statement issued for Coquihalla, Hwy 3, as arctic front approaches

The early season snowfall expected to hit Fraser Valley, Friday, Oct. 23

(Pixabay)
Vancouver teacher suspended after swearing, touching students and complimenting underwear

McCabe touched students, including rubbing their backs and necks, touching their hair and hugging them

Most Read