Government of Canada supports safer supply pilot project in B.C.

News release

Life-saving initiative will provide pharmaceutical-grade medication as alternative to toxic drug supply during COVID-19 pandemic and beyond

July 15, 2020                        Ottawa, ON                                           Health Canada

The opioid overdose crisis continues to be one of the most serious public health crises in Canada’s recent history. Tragically, in many communities, the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening this crisis. The Government of Canada continues to support communities across Canada as they respond to drug overdoses and harms during the pandemic.  

Today, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, along with the Honourable Judy Darcy, B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, and Dr. Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Health Officer, Island Health, announced approximately $2 million in funding for a pilot project within Island Health. The innovative project will provide pharmaceutical-grade medication as an alternative to the toxic illegal drug supply for people in Cowichan Valley who have not responded to other forms of treatment for opioid use disorder.

This project will allow selected patients at risk of overdose to have access to hydromorphone tablets from a licensed prescriber at the Cowichan Valley Wellness and Recovery Centre. The patients will also receive critical wrap-around services, such as peer support, medical care, mental health support and a personal support plan. This project is a four-year pilot that will provide valuable evidence to support the development of best practices for safer supply programs.

Expanding access to safer supply pilot projects, such as this one, is one way Health Canada and the province are helping to save lives and improve health outcomes. The Government of Canada and British Columbia also continues to support critical harm reduction, treatment, housing and other services for people who use drugs or who are in recovery. Canada’s overdose crisis requires collaboration from all levels of government, partners, stakeholders, people with lived and living experience, and organizations in communities across the country.


“It has never been more important to provide harm reduction and treatment services to people who use drugs. It is devastating to see that the pandemic has worsened the situation for Canadians struggling with substance use disorders in many parts of country, including Vancouver Island communities in British Columbia. Providing a safer alternative to street drugs will save lives and help people in Cowichan Valley access treatment and other supports.”

The Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health

“We know that providing safe prescription alternatives to the highly toxic and illegal drug supply is critical to stabilize people who are at great risk. We’re thrilled that this project will build on the work our government has been doing to separate people who use substances from the increasingly toxic street supply and give them the best chance to find their own pathway to healing and recovery.”

The Honourable Judy Darcy, B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions

“This medication option will provide a life-saving alternative to the contaminated drug supply that is driving our drug poisoning crisis. The recent increase in overdose deaths in communities within Island Health shows a clear need for better access to a safer drug supply.”

Dr. Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Health Officer, Island Health

Quick facts

  • There is a growing number of programs now offering injectable opioid agonist treatment using opioids such as hydromorphone and diacetylmorphine, for patients where other treatment options have not worked.

  • Early findings from Canadian evidence has found that using pharmaceutical-grade medications, such as hydromorphone, as an alternative to highly toxic street drugs for people at risk of overdose, can help to save lives and improve health outcomes. It can also help establish an entry to care and treatment for people with substance use disorder. Some medication-assisted treatment for severe opioid use disorder have been approved and are available in Canada for use by qualified healthcare professionals. These medications include injectable hydromorphone, methadone and buprenorphine products. 

  • This project is part of the federal investment of $76.2 million announced in July 2019 for new measures to scale up key lifesaving measures, protect people from an illegal drug supply that contains toxic fentanyl, and address the growing methamphetamine use.

  • Funding for this project is provided through Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP). SUAP provides financial support to provinces, territories, non-governmental organizations and key stakeholders for programs and initiatives that aim to prevent, treat, and reduce harm of substance use issues.

Associated links


Cole Davidson
Office of the Honourable Patty Hajdu
Minister of Health

Media Relations
Health Canada

Public Inquiries:

Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions

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