Registered and psychiatric nurses in British Columbia will be able to prescribe safer drugs for people at risk of overdose under a new public health order.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s order comes as B.C. experiences a record number of monthly overdose deaths with border closings during the COVID-19 pandemic being blamed for putting more toxic drugs on the streets.
Henry said Wednesday that new nursing standards will be introduced, along with training, education and access to expert consultation.
More than 5,000 people have fatally overdosed in B.C. since the province declared a public health emergency in 2016, but fatalities were declining before COVID-19.
Only doctors and nurse practitioners have been able to prescribe drugs, including substitute medications for illicit-drug users as an alternative to potentially deadly substances on the street.
Henry said expanding the number of health professionals who can prescribe could lead to connections that help those with entrenched addictions seek help.
“When people are using drugs it’s not the shunning and the shaming that’s going to help them,” she said.
“Right now, the toxicity of the drugs that are on the street is so high that we’re losing our colleagues, our friends, our family members before they’ve even had a chance to connect with people.”
The latest data from the BC Coroners Service from July shows there were 175 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths.
In March, British Columbia temporarily expanded access to a safer supply of prescription drugs due to concerns about a high number of overdose deaths among isolated drug users during COVID-19.
The ministries of Health and Mental Health and Addictions will expand that access by working with Henry’s office to increase the types of medications that can be prescribed and dispensed by doctors, pharmacists and nurses.
Henry has advocated for access to a safer supply of drugs and has called on the federal government to decriminalize possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use.
Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has also called for access to safer prescription drugs.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently agreed a safer supply is key during the dual public emergencies of a pandemic and the overdose crisis, but he has maintained his stance against decriminalization.
Guy Felicella, peer clinical adviser with the Overdose Emergency Response Centre and the BC Centre on Substance Use, said Henry’s order is a positive step toward building a system of care that includes harm reduction treatment and recovery.’
Camille Bains, The Canadian Press
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