A harm-reduction organization in Vancouver is helping people addicted to opioids buy pharmaceutical-grade fentanyl at street prices as an alternative to the illicit drug supply—a first in North America.
As first reported by the Globe and Mail, PHS Community Services Society launched its “enhanced access program” last week. The program connects people who buy illicit opioids with a nurse who helps them determine a fentanyl prescription and dosage that will suit their needs. Then the patients can purchase powder fentanyl capsules at one of PHS Community Services Society’s clinical sites.
PHS Community Services Society told VICE World News only people already in a safe supply program for opioids are prescribed the pharma-grade fentanyl, and they pay for their prescriptions to remove the financial incentive to re-sell the drugs.
The cost is $10 for one-tenth of a gram—which is called a “point” on the street and goes for the same price.
Dr. Christy Sutherland, medical director at PHS Community Services Society, told the Globe it seems “very strange” that she is coordinating fentanyl sales as a family doctor.
“But then, how many overdoses do you need to do before this is the program that you launch?” she added.
British Columbia declared the overdose crisis a public health emergency in 2016. Since then, more than 8,500 people have died of drug overdoses, with last year being the deadliest on record.
The province already has prescription heroin and fentanyl replacement programs for people who are addicted to opioids. Some drug users told VICE World News that because fentanyl is the dominant street opioid, prescription heroin and other medical alternatives are not enough to keep their withdrawal and cravings at bay. Potent benzodiazepines, or tranquilizers, are now further contaminating the illicit fentanyl supply, causing more complicated overdoses.
The fentanyl powder capsules being sold via PHS Community Services Society can be used to smoke, snort, or inject, the Globe reports. They are cut with sugar and caffeine.
Last month, the Canadian government announced $3.5 million in funding to safe supply projects in Vancouver, Victoria, and Toronto. However, harm reduction proponents have told VICE World News the programs aren’t meeting demand.
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