An audit of two harm reduction programs designed to reduce toxic drug-related deaths in British Columbia found the initiatives were “not effectively implemented.”

Auditor General Michael Pickup released his findings Tuesday after reviewing overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites in the province, as well as British Columbia’s mandatory safer supply program.

“Many thousands of people in British Columbia are grieving the loss of family and friends to the supply of toxic drugs,” Pickup said in a statement. “The crisis also presents an immense challenge for those working to care and support people who use substances. My team and I have deep compassion for everyone affected by this ongoing tragedy.”

BC has nearly 50 overdose prevention sites, and the BC Coroners Service says there has been one death at one site in the province this year.

While Pickup’s review of sites found that departments monitored their operational performance, its report said they “did not adequately respond to implementation barriers such as community resistance, site selection and challenges related to recruiting and retaining staff.”

Pickup also found that there was no minimum standard of service at the locations to ensure consistent quality and availability of services. Its review found the province’s guidance “did not always reflect consultations with Indigenous peoples and people with life and lived experience.”

“These deficiencies impact the people who need these services, their families and the health care system,” Pickup’s statement said. “Overdose prevention and supervised consumption services are critical to saving lives and getting people the support they need.”

Safer Care Program

Pickup also reviewed British Columbia’s Safer Supply Program, which has drawn criticism since its implementation, including from federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre and Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, both of whom claimed that drugs from the program were being diverted to the rest of Canada .

But Attorney General Mike Farnworth said last week that there was no evidence of widespread diversion of the safely available drugs.

In his review, Pickup said better collaboration is needed between provincial ministries, health authorities, health sector partners, Indigenous communities and people with lived experience. He also said the ministries involved “have not adequately addressed key barriers to implementation, such as the shortage of prescribers and the limited number of medicines available.”

Pickup also said public reporting on the safe supply program was “lacking,” but did not directly mention safe drug diversion.

“This is a novel program that requires transparency with key partners to build trust,” Pickup said. “We found that the ministries’ approach to collaboration with health sector partners and public reporting was inadequate.”

Pickup made seven recommendations in its reports, all of which were accepted by the provincial ministries involved.


With files from The Canadian Press

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