Ottawa introduces new resources to support urgent needs of people who use substances, service providers and decision makers in relation to the COVID‑19 pandemic

 

While the world continues to grapple with a pandemic, some of our country’s most vulnerable populations are dealing with a compounded health-related crisis: Addiction. Canada is in the midst of an overdose epidemic and on International Overdose Awareness Day, it’s prudent to remember, “addiction is not a choice, but a treatable medical condition. “

Dr. Theresa Tam

Last week, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, issued her daily COVID-19 update and took the opportunity to highlight the links between the pandemic and drug-related overdoses and deaths across the county.

“There are indications that the street drug supply is growing more unpredictable and toxic in some parts of the country, as previous supply chains have been disrupted by travel restrictions and border measures. Public health measures designed to reduce the impact of COVID-19 may increase isolation, stress and anxiety as well as put a strain on the supports for persons who use drugs.”

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, for the third consecutive month this year, the number of drug overdose deaths recorded in British Columbia has exceeded 170 for the third consecutive month this year. In July, deaths were up 136% compared to July 2019. This upward trend is reflected in communities across Canada. In July, Montreal reported the highest number of overdose deaths in more than five years.

Communities across Canada organize events to support International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31. A flag of hope flies in Toronto and this year CN Tower will be lit purple to promote awareness of the issue.

The statistics are sobering.

“People use substances for many different reasons, such as a means of coping with trauma and other pain. For some, substance use can have negative impacts on their life,” says Dr. Tam. “We know that addiction is not a choice, it is a treatable medical condition. There are many different paths to wellness and recovery. I encourage those in a position to support people who use substances to explore all of the options at their disposal.”

For instance, evidence shows Canada’s supervised consumption sites play a key role in creating healthier communities: “They provide a safe, clean space for people to bring their own drugs to use, in the presence of trained staff. This prevents accidental overdoses and reduces the spread of infectious diseases, such as HIV.”

Other initiatives include, evidence-based treatment options designed to reduce the risk of overdose, infection and withdrawal, such as methadone or other opioid agonist therapies.

Caregivers, crisis workers and health care professionals play an essential role in helping people with substance abuse and addiction issues find the help they need. During COVID-19 restrictions, knowing how and where to access resources is a bit more complicated.

In response, the Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse (CRISM) has developed six new national guidance documents. Collectively, the six documents, which are constantly evolving, address urgent needs of people who use substances, as well as service providers and decision makers in relation to the COVID‑19 pandemic.

“I also encourage health care providers to access this toolkit, which provides clarity on the rules for prescribing for the treatment of substance use disorder, and/or to provide a safer alternative to street drugs,” says Dr. Tam. “Visit Canada.ca/opioids to learn more about what you can do to help save a life, such as recognize and act if you witness an opioid overdose, or change the way you speak about substance use so others feel supported to reach out for help. These actions can help save lives, especially given the compounding public health impacts of the pandemic.”