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Safer drug supply and decriminalization key themes in 2018 Overdose Action Exchange report

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​Vancouver – Urgent action is needed to provide a safer supply of drugs in B.C., and to reform outdated drug laws, according to participants of the third annual Overdose Action Exchange meeting.

2018 ODAX meeting.JPGThe meeting, held in June, brought together more than 160 participants who are actively working to respond to the overdose crisis including people with lived experience.

The report, released today by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), summarizes meeting discussions on six key themes and outlines actions that can be taken to prevent overdose deaths. The report captures the different ideas expressed by participants in the meeting, which was designed to provide a safe and open environment to discuss B.C.’s devastating drug overdose crisis.

Participants identified two overarching themes. First, the group said drug policy needs to be reformed to decriminalize all drug possession. Second, there is an urgent need to get safer drugs into the hands of people who need them.

“People are dying because the drug supply has become toxic - this came up in every discussion at the Exchange,” said Dr. Mark Tyndall, executive medical director of the BCCDC. “Much of what we have achieved to date is the prevention of overdose deaths and not overdoses themselves. It is clear we must come up with ways to provide access to non-toxic opioids to prevent drug overdose in the first place.”
The report also emphasizes the need to do a better job of engaging the Indigenous community, which is overrepresented in the drug overdose crisis, as well as the key role played by people who use substances in developing and implementing realistic and effective solutions.

“A public health approach is exactly what's needed, but it must be rooted in the lived realities of the widest spectrum of users throughout the province," said Karen Ward, a 2018 meeting attendee who helped put together the report. "The B.C. experience has revealed that just as public health is about all of us, this crisis is about all of us. Every person needs medicine and healing, and always will. Let's start there."

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Some of the actions implemented following the 2016 and 2017 Overdose Action Exchange meetings include:

  • Scale up of Overdose Prevention Sites across the province. The sites can now be put in place to respond to immediate community needs such as women only sites.
  • Expanded access to Take Home Naloxone kits and training.
  • Expanded access to drug testing.
  • Expansion of education for health care professionals on substance use and addiction medicine.
  • Creation of peer payment guidelines to provide financial reimbursement to people who use drugs and their organizations in exchange for the knowledge and time they invest when they are consulted as experts.
  • Overdose Emergency Response Centre was established.
  • Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act became law in Canada.
The BC Centre for Disease Control, a part of the Provincial Health Services Authority, provides public health leadership through surveillance, detection, treatment, prevention and consultation services. The Centre provides diagnostic and treatment services for people with diseases of public health importance, and analytical and policy support to all levels of government and health authorities. The BCCDC also provides health promotion and prevention services to reduce the burden of chronic disease and preventable injury. For more, visit  or follow us on Twitter @CDCofBC.

The Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) plans, manages and evaluates selected specialty and province-wide health care services across BC, working with the five geographic health authorities to deliver province-wide solutions that improve the health of British Columbians. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter @PHSAofBC.


BC Centre for Disease Control; harm reduction
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