Picture of pills with the text Q&A Series with Harm Reduction expert Bernie Pauly

As Canada transitions into the COVID-19 recovery phase, what is the role of Government is addressing the addiction and opioid crisis exacerbated by the pandemic? The third installment of our Q&A series with Harm Reduction with expert Bernie Pauly—addresses this issue. Questions were submitted by audience members from our 2-part COVID-19 Harm Reduction webinar series.

Q: How can we make harm reduction less political, especially in light of the disproportionate impacts COVID has had on those who are homeless and other marginalized populations? - Mikaela B

A: This is such an important question! Harm reduction has been hugely political because it addresses, in part, harms of illegal substances. This makes Harm Reduction in the substance use field inherently political even as the evidence has been amassed. On the ground, it’s a hard fight for harm reduction in the wake of current drug policies that criminalize use. Decriminalization and moving to safer supply is needed, but on the ground it requires daily explanation. Organizations can adopt harm reduction policies, but they have to have teeth in them, and willingness to actually implement. This isn’t always easy for organizations who rely on public funding. Even in B.C. where we have some of the best Harm Reduction policies in Canada, we are faced with challenges in many parts of the province with services not funded or opposed. So you are not alone in your questioning. During COVID, exposing and raising these issues is even more important. One thing I would note is that COVID complicates overdose response efforts, and I think really raises the issues of decriminalization and a safe supply to address harms of the illicit drug market. 

Q: We need to make known to our various levels of Government which services are essential to our clients. What has been deemed necessary or not is very limited in scope. Any push for this to happen once we are out of the worst of it? - Marie-Michèle C

A: In B.C. during COVID, Supervised Consumption Sites (SCS) and overdose prevention have been essential healthcare services. Harm Reduction services are healthcare services. Provision of clean supplies is essential to transmission of care. MAP and Safer Supply as an alternative to the Illicit Drug market are critical to prevent a range of harms including withdrawal and overdose. So, your point is well taken about this continuing post-Covid. 

Q: I was under the impression that an organization needs federal law exemptions to allow people to use illicit drugs...is this not a lengthy process? How would an organization gain these exemptions right now? - Marie-Michèle C

Thanks for this question! In my last Harm Reduction webinar, I was in part speaking within my B.C. context, where there is a Ministerial exemption under the current public health emergency to establish overdose prevention sites. Although there is not necessarily funding to do this, there is clear direction to do so in B.C. In other provinces, yes a federal exemption would be required and Health Canada sometime ago reduced the requirements for the exemption in the light of the current overdose epidemic. That info can be found on the Health Canada website.

Q: Are we able to read the draft around the provincial guidelines for CMAPS? Or when can we expect the document to be released? - Georjeana P

A: Yes, PM me bpauly@uvic.ca

This is the third of a Q&A series with Harm Reduction expert Bernie Pauly from the University of Victoria and the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research. Look for the third blog coming shortly! If you have any additional questions, don’t hesitate to post on the forum of the Homelessness Learning Hub and our experts will get back to you.