Connect with us

Addictions

Alberta and opioids II: Marshall Smith’s ambitious campaign

Published

29 minute read

Marshall Smith. Photo: PW

Click here to subscribe to The Paul Wells Newsletter.

Alberta’s system builder

The Alberta model, made in BC

“I, as you know, have been everywhere in this field, from eating out of garbage cans to this office,” Marshall Smith said. “So I have a deep respect for everybody who works along that continuum.”

We were sitting in the office at the Alberta Legislature reserved for chiefs of staff to Alberta premiers. That’s Smith’s current job. Premier Danielle Smith was probably nearby, though I didn’t see her on this trip. On a shelf behind Marshall Smith were two coffee mugs of different design, each bearing the inscription WAKE UP. SAVE LIVES. REPEAT.

Thank you for reading Paul Wells. This post is public so feel free to share it.

Share

Anyway, Marshall Smith (all future uses of “Smith” in this post will refer to him, unless I specify the premier) was talking about the continuum from dumpsters to the centre of power. “Where you work on that continuum obviously colours the way that you enter this conversation,” he said. “When you are standing on a sidewalk with a person in front of you, the solutions to that person’s problem look very different than what you might do to plan a broader system of care, for a large population of people.”

This was his way of anticipating criticisms he faces as a leading strategist behind Alberta’s emerging strategy for handling a deadly progression in opioid doses. Since he entered Alberta’s government as a more junior staffer in the government of former premier Jason Kenney in 2019, Smith has been working to put a much greater emphasis on recovery from addiction than on “harm reduction,” whose valuable goal is to keep drug users alive whether they recover or not. This makes him a bête noire among harm-reduction advocates. (You can read a mild critique of his efforts here; or a real scorcher here).

What Smith was saying was, in effect, If you work on the street, you’re going to be all about harm reduction, and I respect that. But he is working on drug policy for a whole province, and perhaps beyond, so he needs a broader perspective. “I’m a system builder. So I don’t have the luxury of just focusing on one particular substance. I have to worry about the whole population. I have to worry about the disease burden of addiction and drug use more broadly.”

He sees much to worry about. “Over the last 30 years in Canada, successive governments have failed miserably to anticipate and adequately address the type of services — both from a capital investment and an operating investment — to help people do this.” By “this,” he means escaping addiction. “We have not cared about people with mental health and addiction issues. And we had the ability to not care because up until the last six or seven years, the evidence of them was hidden away.”

Smith first started thinking about this when he was in British Columbia, where he began his recovery from a history of drug use. In 2018, at the BC Centre for Substance Use, Smith co-wrote a report with Dr. Evan Wood that called for a large new investment in facilities and programs to help people recover from addiction. The report is no longer on the BCCSU website, but you can download a copy here.

“It was a 39-point strategy to transform the system in British Columbia,” Smith recalled. “The government of British Columbia wasn’t interested in that strategy. They wanted to go a particular direction.

“So that report is now known as the Alberta model.”


I’m leaving the paywall off these stories because I want them to be widely shared and discussed. But the reason I’m able to report and present big stories like this, with the travel and expenses that involves, is because many of my readers choose to become paying subscribers. If you want to support my work and get full access to everything I write, here’s the button.

 

Marshall Smith in the dining hall of the Lakeview Recovery Community, opening in July. Photo: PW

In its first page, the Wood/Smith report said “British Columbia has long suffered because of the lack of an effective system to support individuals in and pursuing recovery from substance use disorders.” The system’s “overwhelming focus” was on keeping people alive rather than helping them get better. Wood and Smith wanted that to change.

The need for major new investments in addiction recovery was essentially uncontroversial in B.C. Indeed governments there still periodically announce they are making such investments. But Smith was perpetually unsatisfied with the scale of that commitment.

A year after BC’s new NDP government could-shouldered his report, Smith began working in the UCP government of Alberta’s then-new premier, Jason Kenney.

“Obviously we started off very modestly,” Smith said. “I worked in an office down in the basement. Mental health and addiction wasn’t a big deal. It really was very much a group of cubicles.”

Today, Alberta’s department of mental health and addiction is the seventh-largest ministry in the provincial government.

“The ROSC transformation that is going on in Alberta is massive. It is one of the most massive whole-of-government system transformations that I’ve seen,” Smith said. The premier chairs a ROSC committee of cabinet with seven ministers.

I guess I’d better unpack that acronym. ROSC stands for “recovery-oriented system of care,” a term that appeared in the 2018 report Smith co-wrote.

So you get the premier and her ministers of mental health and addiction, Indigenous relations, advanced education, health, community and social services, public safety and the attorney general meeting regularly to coordinate recovery policy. The premier’s chief of staff is on the file constantly. As I mentioned on Monday, he devoted a full day to explaining this broad effort to me.

“We spend enormous amounts of time and energy,” Smith said. “All of us live and breathe this. Anybody out there that thinks that we’re just, from a conservative perspective,  just cavalierly doing this, that just couldn’t be more untrue. We we are in this completely and totally. We monitor almost everything that goes on in the system.”

What are they working on? Smith said the “recovery” part of that “recovery-oriented system of care” jargon-ball gets most of the attention, because it draws attention to the contrast between harm-reduction and abstinence-based recovery models. But Smith is a wonk, and if anything he is more interested in the “system of care” part. His goal is to ensure that every interaction an opioid user has with the modern government apparatus is designed to encourage recovery from dependency. Since people who use drugs tend to bump up against the state a lot, Alberta’s emerging system has a lot of moving parts. The goal is to hook the parts up more effectively.

One of the other men in Smith’s office, Dr. Nathaniel Day, chimed in. He’s been the lead strategist on substance use at Alberta Health Services. He’s an important Smith collaborator.

“Across Canada,” he said, “the system of care for people with addiction has been fragmented, poorly thought out — convenient.” He meant services had generally only been provided when, and where, it was easy for government to provide them. “If you look at opioid dependency treatment, if you lived in a suburban or rural community, it didn’t matter that you had an opioid use disorder. Tough. We had no services for you.”

Day designed the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program, which provides online consultations to patients anywhere in Alberta, and if needed, prescriptions to medications that can be filled at local pharmacies. For patients without coverage, the medication is free and if their local pharmacist has it in stock, available on the day of the call.

“We went in and said, enough is enough,” Day said. “What would be good enough for you and your family? And how do we take that to everybody?”

Which medication? “In this province, we’re huge fans of gold-standard opioid-replacement medications, and we use it a lot,” Smith said. “We have Sublocade, which is something that other provinces don’t have because it’s very expensive. It’s the injectable version of Suboxone. It’s a subcutaneous injection, it goes under the skin, it lasts for 30 days, where the oral is 24-hour. So that’s a thousand bucks a shot, and we pay for that.”

An obvious point about this is that these so-called opioid agonist treatments, or OATs, are big-time harm reduction. They greatly reduce both withdrawal symptoms and highs. One question that I still have, after watching everything Smith and the Alberta government are doing on drug recovery, is whether other provinces could afford to match it.


Running into those institutions

VODP is useful for people who are able to reach out for help from home. But other potential beneficiaries are distracted, or in distress. Very often they run into the police.

“So we took that technology” — the virtual access to physicians and treatment — “and we gave it to the 34 police agencies that we have in the province,” Smith said.

“We said to the officers, ‘If you encounter somebody who has an opioid-use disorder, you can get them started on opioid-use medication. You can, officer. Here’s the phone number to call. Put them on. We make the arrangements. They go to the pharmacy, right then and there. If they’re on the street, that can be done right in the back of a police car.

“If they are in custody at the cell block and they go into the cell block, we have put paramedics in every cell block in Alberta. So the first thing that happens to somebody when they’re arrested and they go into into municipal cells, they’re met by a paramedic that says, ‘Let’s talk about your substance use. Are you an opioid user? We can offer you immediate treatment right now. Right here. Would you like to do that?’ Through our police programs, we’re probably up to like 4,000 people who have taken us up on that.”

That’s what you can get done in a police cruiser or a holding pen. Lots of people go much further into the correctional system than that. So does Smith’s system of care.

“[Alberta’s] focus on corrections and police right now, admittedly, is the opposite of what some other jurisdictions are focusing on,” Smith said. If anything this was an understatement. A major argument for decriminalization and safe supply is that the last thing a drug user needs is the stigma of a criminal record. Other jurisdictions, Smith said, “are running away from those institutions when they should be running into those institutions.

“I’ll give you a very direct example why.

“We know, from the 2017 coroner’s report in Alberta that 40 percent of the people who died [of opioid-related causes] were in custody in the year prior to their death. That’s a really important piece of information, because it tells me I have a big chunk of population there that — if I can get at them, and if we can change the way that they experience this process — we can make a big dent in these numbers.”

A lot of people in the correctional system have substance-use disorder, even if that’s not what they’re in for. “We said, ‘Let’s really do a different way of thinking on this,’” Smith said. “Even though Corrections is a public-safety agency, we want the Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction to take over all Corrections health care.”

Perhaps four in five detainees, he said, “have alcoholism, addiction and mental-health issues. They’re all pooled up in one place and they’re not doing anything. They’ve got nothing but time on their hands. And I don’t have to build a new building? You’re kidding me! This is fantastic! Why wouldn’t I just put therapists in? So we now have treatment programs inside correctional centers.”

Of course a lot of places do programs for inmates. “But what they’re going to show you when you unpack that is, ‘Well, we give them this workbook,’” Smith said. “What they’re not doing is the deep transformative, therapy work that is necessary. And honestly, Paul, our Therapeutic Living Units are probably the best treatment programs we have in Alberta.”

With that, we piled into Smith’s SUV — Smith, Day and the third member of Smith’s team that day, a physician and consultant named Dr. Paul Sobey. A half-hour later we arrived at the Fort Saskatchewan Correctional Centre, northeast of Edmonton.

Here we visited the Therapeutic Living Unit, a full-time addiction-recovery program for 21 women who are housed separately from the general inmate population. That’s about 10% of the total population of women at Fort Saskatchewan. The program opened in February. Participants, who must apply, run through a 12-hour daily program of activity: morning check-in meetings, physical exercise, twice-daily smudge ceremonies reflecting the large Indigenous population in the correctional system, frequent meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous as well as the more recently developed SMART Recovery system. Participants are rarely alone during daylight hours. The program is designed to last for months, which struck me as an unusually long time for a recovery program.

Four of the program’s participants sat on a sofa and talked about their experience in the program. “I’ve been wondering and wondering if a program like this was going to happen,” one said.

“It’s like an answered prayer, honestly,” said another. “So I would just encourage you to keep opening places like this.”

That’s the plan. “We’ve got 12 correctional centers in Alberta,” Smith told me before our road trip. “Our goal is to have Therapeutic Living Units [in all of them]. There will come a time where we have whole correctional centers that are working on this model, right? This requires massive intervention, not tinkering around the edges. This is generational change in the way that we do corrections in Alberta.”


Connections

All of the four young women we heard from said they’re nervous about what happens when they get out of detention. Old acquaintances can encourage a return to old habits. Which is part of the reason why Alberta is also building a network of live-in Recovery Communities, long-term residential rehab programs to reinforce the lessons learned in the TLUs — or to help other people begin recovery if they didn’t arrive via the correctional system.

Once the system is fully built in 2027, “every correctional centre will have a sister Recovery Community,” Smith said. “That’s why we’re building 11 of them around the province. Five of them are on First Nations, in partnership with the First Nations.”

Here’s where the system starts to look like a system. After all, in the broadest outlines nothing’s new here. People in prisons have long received addiction counselling, and the Alberta government and various private groups have long run rehabs. But for the longest time, these assorted parts of the system could barely talk to one another. So the chances of a seamless transition from the correctional system to recovery care were lousy. They’re still not great, because the system is still being built, but the goal is a seamless network of care.

“Services in 2018, 2019 were very disconnected,” Warren Driechel, the Edmonton Police Service deputy chief we met the other day, told me. The bureaucratic runaround that we all have to face can be brutal on people with high needs and impaired function. Say you want to get on AISH, an income-support program for people with a medical condition. To do that, you need a doctor’s appointment. To get one, you need identification. To get ID, you need an address.

Public officials are working to provide services that match that complexity.

In January 2021, the EPS launched a “HELP Unit” to refer people to social services instead of just arresting them.

In September 2023, the police replaced the old holding cells where intoxicated people could dry out and then get dumped back on the street with an Integrated Care Centre where they could connect with social services that operate right in the centre.

And in January 2024, after many of the tent encampments were dismantled, a new Navigation and Support Centre became the city’s hub for providing medical, legal and bureaucratic help for people who have often been bereft.

The Nav Centre has nine shelter beds in the back where people can rest, if needed, while on-site staff and volunteers process their files. (Pets are welcome, unlike in some of the city’s shelters.) The centre has the province’s only on-site Service Alberta photo-ID station. On the day I visited, the Nav Centre assisted 50 people, with 24 visiting the desk run by the Hope Mission, 10 being helped by staff from Radius Health, 12 by the provincial department of mental health and addiction.


Everything old is new

Our final stop was the Lakeview Recovery Community outside Gunn, northwest of Edmonton. When it opens in July, it’ll be the third or fourth in a network of such long-term residential programs. Lethbridge and Red Deer have been open for a while. The goal is to have 11 centres up and running across the province by 2027. Smith hopes that once the full network of centres is open, long wait times in Red Deer and Lethbridge will shrink, perhaps to the point where some beds will be available on-demand.

Each recovery community has its quirks. Lakeview will be for men only. Five of the centres will be on Indigenous land. The minimum stay will be four months, with some residents staying for up to a year. That’s a long stint for a rehab; in some private rehabs, it’s unusual to stay for even a month. In theory every day you spend with a combination of counselling, group therapy, twelve-step programs and medical care will increase your chances of success. No resident will pay for their stay at any recovery community. It’s covered by the government.

Work crews have been renovating the Lakeview site since 2022. It’s an impressive place, roomy and bright, with rooms where residents can meet visiting family, a huge kitchen where residents will learn cooking skills, and a dispensary for opioid agonist treatment. Residents will share bungalows while they’re in the program, five or six to a house.

But it didn’t just come into existence. What’s now Lakeview began its existence as the McCullough Centre for homeless World War II veterans. It had been operating for years as an addiction rehab centre when Jason Kenney’s government closed it in 2021. When the government announced the site’s eventual reopening barely a year later, observers were baffled. Closing the centre fit a narrative about a government that put the bottom line over Albertans’ wellbeing. Refurbishing and reopening it was.. harder to explain. Fitting it into a network of nearly a dozen such centres that will, themselves, be better connected to street-level services and to the corrections system… well, we’ll see, won’t we?

I’m conscious of ending this installment in my series on opioids in Alberta on an ambivalent note. I simply don’t know how this will turn out. My first article, earlier this week, was about the scale of the challenge. This one is about the scale of the response. It’s impressive. It’s getting attention across the country. Sobey, the physician who was the third member of our little party as we toured the region’s facilities, has a consulting firm whose aim is to design recovery-oriented systems of care to any government that wants to start the conversation. His phone pinged with an inquiry from another provincial government while we were visiting the Fort Saskatchewan prison. These ideas may come soon to a province near you.

What we don’t know yet is whether they’ll work, or how well. In the third and final installment in this series, I’ll discuss a few reasons to reserve judgment.

But what Alberta is trying is, in many ways, not heretical. Nobody thinks it’s great design to leave desperate people to wander helplessly thorugh a piecemeal hodge-podge of social services and treatment options, with police and corrections hovering over it all as an aloof menace. Smith, his boss the premier, and several government departments are trying to build a better system.

There is room for many devils in the details. But if federalism is supposed to be a laboratory for testing different approaches to thorny problems, Alberta is testing this approach ambitiously. Watching Marshall Smith, I found myself wondering what other intractable governance problems could benefit from the sustained attention of an empowered senior staffer, a supportive head of government, and ministers and public servants working in close coordination.

Todayville is a digital media and technology company. We profile unique stories and events in our community. Register and promote your community event for free.

Follow Author

Addictions

Trudeau gov’t earmarks over $27 million for ‘safe supply’ drug program linked to overdoses and violence

Published on

From LifeSiteNews

By Clare Marie Merkowsky

The taxpayer money will help fund 22 drug distribution projects in British Columbia and Ontario.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is planning to spend over $27 million on “safe supply” drug programs this year.

This week, Health Canada revealed that the Trudeau government has budgeted over $27 million in funding for “safe supply” drug programs that have been linked to increased violence and overdose deaths across Canada, according to information obtained by Rebel News.

“With regard to planned funding by the government related to ‘safe’ or ‘safer’ supply programs: How much does the government plan on spending on such programs, broken down by department, agency, and initiative in the current fiscal year and in each of the next five fiscal years?” Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Tako Van Popta had questioned in April.

Safe supply” is the term used to refer to government-prescribed drugs given to addicts under the assumption that a more controlled batch of narcotics reduces the risk of overdose. Critics of the policy argue that giving addicts drugs only enables their behavior, puts the public at risk, disincentivizes recovery from addiction and has not reduced — and sometimes even increased — overdose deaths when implemented.

Three months later, on June 17, the House of Commons revealed that the Trudeau government plans to spend an excess of $27 million to fund 22 drug distribution projects in British Columbia and Ontario.

The two largest recipients of federal funding are in Ontario, with Toronto’s South Riverdale Community Health Centre receiving $2.7 million and Kitchener’s K-W Working Centre for the Unemployed receiving $2.1 million.

In British Columbia, the largest recipient is the AVI Health and Community Services Society SAFER North Island in Campbell River at $2.02 million.

The Trudeau government’s funding for increased drug use comes after the program proved such a disaster in British Columbia that the province recently requested Trudeau recriminalize drugs in public spaces. Nearly two weeks later, the Trudeau government announced it would “immediately” end the province’s drug program.

Beginning in early 2023, Trudeau’s federal policy, in effect, decriminalized hard drugs on a trial-run basis in British Columbia.

Since being implemented, the province’s drug policy has been widely criticized, especially after it was found that the province broke three different drug-related overdose records in the first month the new law was in effect.

The effects of decriminalizing hard drugs in various parts of Canada have been exposed in Aaron Gunn’s recent documentary, Canada is Dying, and in U.K. Telegraph journalist Steven Edginton’s mini-documentary, Canada’s Woke Nightmare: A Warning to the West.

Gunn says he documents the “general societal chaos and explosion of drug use in every major Canadian city.”

“Overdose deaths are up 1,000 percent in the last 10 years,” he said in his film, adding that “(e)very day in Vancouver four people are randomly attacked.”

Continue Reading

Addictions

“Safer supply” reminiscent of the OxyContin crisis, warns addiction physician

Published on

Dr. Lori Regenstreif, MD, MSc, CCFP (AM), FCFP, MScCH (AMH), CISAM, has been working as an addiction medicine physician in inner city Hamilton, Ontario, since 2004. She co-founded the Shelter Health Network in 2005 and the Hamilton Clinic’s opioid treatment clinic in 2010, and helped found the St. Joseph’s Hospital Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) clinic.

[This article is part of Break The Needle’s “Experts Speak Up” series, which documents healthcare professionals’ experiences with Canada’s “safer supply” programs] By: Liam Hunt

Dr. Lori Regenstreif, an addiction physician with decades of experience on the frontlines of Canada’s opioid crisis, is sounding the alarm about the country’s rapidly expanding “safer supply” programs.

While proponents of safe supply contend that providing drug users with free tablets of hydromorphone – a pharmaceutical opioid roughly as potent as heroin – can mitigate harms, Dr. Regenstreif expresses grave concern that these programs may inadvertently perpetuate new addictions and entrench existing opioid use.

She sees ominous similarities between safer supply and the OxyContin crisis of the late 1990s, when the widespread overprescribing of opioids flooded North American communities with narcotics, sparking an addiction crisis that continues to this day. Having witnessed the devastating consequences of OxyContin in the late 1990s, she believes that low-quality and misleading research is once again encouraging dangerous overprescribing practices.

Flashbacks to the OxyContin Crisis

Soon after Dr. Regenstreif received her medical license in Canada, harm reduction became the primary framework guiding her practice in inner-city Vancouver. This period coincided with Health Canada’s 1996 regulatory approval of oxycodone (brand name: OxyContin) based on trials, sponsored by Purdue Pharma, that failed to assess the serious risks of misuse or addiction.

Dr. Regenstreif subsequently witnessed highly addictive prescription opioids flood North American streets while Purdue and its distributors reaped record profits at the expense of vulnerable communities. “That was really peaking in the late 90s as I was coming into practice,” she recounted during an extended interview with Break The Needle. “I was being pressured to prescribe it as well.”

Oxycodone addiction led to the deaths of tens of thousands of individuals in the United States and Canada. As a result, Purdue Pharma faced criminal penalties, fines, and civil settlements amounting to 8.5 billion USD, ultimately leading to the company’s bankruptcy in 2019.

During the OxyContin crisis, patients would regularly procure large amounts of pharmaceutical opioids for resale on the black market – a process known as “diversion.” Dr. Regenstreif has seen alarming indications that safer supply hydromorphone is being diverted at similarly high levels, and estimated that, out of her patient pool, “15 to 20 out of maybe 40 people who have to go to a pharmacy frequently” have reported witnessing diversion.

Between one to two thirds of her new patients have told her that they are accessing diverted hydromorphone tablets – in many cases, the tablets almost certainly originate from safer supply.

Injecting crushed hydromorphone tablets pose severe health risks, including endocarditis and spinal abscesses. “I’ve seen people become quadriplegic and paraplegic because the infection invaded their spinal cord and damaged their nervous system,” said Dr. Regenstreif. While infections can be mitigated by reducing the number of times drug users inject drugs into their bodies, she says that safer supply programs do not discourage or reduce injections.

She further noted, “I’ve seen a teenager in [the] hospital getting their second heart valve replacement because they continue to inject after the first one.” The pill that nearly stopped the patient’s heart was one of the tens of thousands of hydromorphone tablets handed out daily via Canadian safe supply programs.

Her experiences are consistent with preliminary data from a scientific paper published by JAMA Internal Medicine in January, which found that safe supply distribution in British Columbia is associated with a “substantial” increase in opioid-related hospitalizations, rising by 63% over the first two years of program implementation — all without reducing deaths by a statistically significant margin.

While Dr. Regenstreif has worked in a variety of settings, from Ontario’s youth correctional system to Indigenous healing facilities in the Northwest Territories, her experiences in Australia, where she worked during a sabbatical year from 2013 to 2014, were particularly educational.

Australia has far fewer opioid-related deaths than Canada – in 2021, opioid mortality rates were 3.8 per 100,000 in Australia and 21 per 100,000 in Canada (a difference of over 500%). Dr. Regenstreif credited this difference to Australia’s comparatively controlled opioid landscape, where access to pharmaceutical narcotics is tightly regulated.

“Heroin had been a long-standing street opioid. It was really the only opioid you tended to see, because the only other ones people could get a prescription for were over-the-counter, low-potency codeine tablets,” she said. To this day, opioid prescriptions in Australia require special approval for repeat supplies, preventing stockpiling and street diversion.

No real evidence supports “safer supply”

Critics and whistleblowers have argued that Canadian safe supply programs, which have received over $100 million in federal funding through Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP), were initiated without adhering to the rigorous evidentiary standards typically required to classify medication as “safe.”

Dr. Regenstreif shares these concerns and says that no credible studies show that safer supply saves lives, and that little effort is invested into exploring its possible risks and unintended consequences – such as increased addiction, hospitalization, overdose and illicit diversion to youth and vulnerable individuals.

Most studies which support the experiment simply interview recipients of safer supply and then present their answers as objective evidence of success. Dr. Regenstreif criticized these qualitative studies as methodologically flawed “customer satisfaction surveys,” as they are “very selective” and rely on small, bias-prone samples.

“If you have 400 people in a program, and you get feedback from 12, and 90% of those 12 said X, that’s not [adequate] data,” said Dr. Regenstreif, criticizing the lack of follow-up often shown safer supply researchers. “Nobody seems to track down the […] people who were not included. Did they get kicked out of the program? [Did they engage in] diversion? Did they die? We’re not hearing about that. It doesn’t make any sense in an empirical scientific universe.”

Safe supply advocates typically argue that opioids themselves are not problematic, but rather their unregulated and illicit supply, as this allows for contaminants and unpredictable dosing. However, studies have found that opioid-related deaths rise when narcotics, legal or not, are more widely available.

Dr. Regensteif is calling upon harm reduction researchers to build a more robust evidence base before calling for the expansion of safer supply. That includes more methodologically rigorous and transparent quantitative research to evaluate the full impact of Canada’s harm reduction strategies. Forgoing this evidence or adequate risk-prevention measures could lead to consequences as catastrophic as those resulting from Purdue’s deceptive marketing of OxyContin, she said.

Subscribe to our newsletter to get our latest news and analysis – or donate to our investigative journalism fund.

Critics propose solutions despite bullying

Dr. Regenstreif has faced pressure and exclusion for speaking out against safe supply. She estimates that while only a quarter of her local colleagues shared her doubts a few years ago, “now I would say more than half” harbor the same concerns. However, many are reluctant to voice their reservations publicly, fearing professional or social repercussions. “People who don’t want to speak out don’t want to be labeled as right-wing […] they don’t want to be labeled as conservative.”

While she acknowledges that safe supply may play a limited role for a small subset of patients, she believes it has been oversold as a panacea without adequate safeguards or due evaluation. “It doesn’t seem as if policymakers are listening to the people on the ground who have experience in doing this,” she said.

She contends that the solution to Canada’s addiction crisis lies in a more holistic, recovery-oriented approach that includes all four pillars of addiction: harm reduction, prevention, treatment, and enforcement. Her vision includes a national network of publicly-funded, rapid-access addiction medicine clinics with integrated counseling and wraparound services.

Additionally, Dr. Regenstreif stresses the importance of building upon established opioid agonist treatments (OAT), like methadone and buprenorphine, rather than solely relying on novel approaches whose social and medical risks are not yet fully understood.

At the core of Dr. Regenstreif’s advocacy lies a profound dedication to her patients and to the science of addiction medicine. “I like to think I kind of am fear-mongering with my patients, [by] trying to make them afraid of not getting better,” she explains. “I don’t want them to end up in the hospital and not come back out. I don’t want them to end up dead.”


[This article has been co-published with The Bureau, a Canadian media outlet that tackles corruption and foreign influence campaigns through investigative journalism. Subscribe to their work to get the latest updates on how organized crime influences the Canadian drug trade.]

Continue Reading

Trending

X