A new public health order will authorize more nurses to prescribe safe alternatives to B.C.’s toxic drug supply.

It was issued by provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, as B.C. tries to stem the unprecedented tide of overdose deaths.

B.C.’s illegal drug supply is as toxic than it’s ever been. It factored into 175 fatal overdoses in July, marking the third consecutive month in which there were more than 170 suspected overdose deaths in this province.

Dr. Henry says giving physicians and nurse practitioners the ability to prescribe safer pharmaceutical alternatives, “has been critical to saving lives,” and linking more people to treatment and other health and social services. 

“I am issuing a provincial health officer order to expand the health professionals who are able to provide safer, accessible alternatives to the toxic street drug supply and help more people find their pathway to hope.”

The order is welcome news to harm reduction organizations such as AVI Campbell River. (Among the services AVI offers is education on harm reduction, safer use, as well as HIV and hepatitis C, and Naloxone training.)

Office manager, Sarah Delaney-Spindler says it’s easier for AVI’s clients to access nurses than doctors.

“So when you put that power into the hands of RN’s, and take down barriers that folks experience in accessing health care services such as safe supply it just increases the likelihood of getting clean, measured doses of substances into folks’ hands that rely on those substances,” Delaney-Spindler said. 

“We’re hopeful that the roll-out will be effective in getting nurses on the community level and addressing the need that folks have in their substance use.”

Delaney-Spindler says these are frightening times for drug users, especially during the pandemic.

“They’re forced to use substances that have been cut with dangerous materials such as fentanyl, carfentanil, (and) a myriad of other substances that are incredibly dangerous and toxic, so when you’re cutting off supply chains that were more reliable in the past and now you’re having folks do home cooks with people that aren’t experienced in manufacturing, you’re creating stuff that’s on the street that’s highly toxic, very dangerous,” she said.

She said all the stimulant drugs are being contaminated, and we’re seeing more overdose deaths involving people using stimulants or inhalation versus, historically, injection.

“It’s been a huge shift in the last several months and we’re just trying to adapt and support folks and keep people safe, and keep people alive,” Delaney-Spindler said. 

At a provincial level, Dr. Henry added the new order “is about connecting more people to treatment and doing all we can to save lives by supporting people who use drugs to do so safely.”

As we learn more and better understand where the risks exist, we will continue to adjust our COVID-19 approach and response in B.C. to protect those who are most vulnerable,” Dr. Henry said. 

“This is our priority for not only COVID-19, but the second equally concerning pandemic of overdose deaths.”

“We know the pandemic has only made the street drug supply in B.C. more toxic than ever, putting people who use drugs at extremely high risk for overdose,” Dr. Henry said. 

New nursing standards will be introduced, along with training and education, and access to expert consultation and pathways to connect people to broader addictions and primary care.