Extra precautions are being taken by overdose prevention and supervised consumption service providers in B.C., as required by the provincial health officer, to ensure the impacts of COVID-19 are mitigated.
According to a statement from the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, these extra precautions include enhanced cleaning procedures and, in some cases, making changes in service delivery to accommodate the need for social distancing.
Some overdose prevention service providers have moved to a mobile model in order to meet clients where they are and ensure they have the harm reduction and sanitation supplies they need.
“As this situation is changing so rapidly, people are advised to contact their local overdose prevention services site to find out the latest information regarding any changes in service,” the statement says.
The ministry is encouraging B.C. residents to do what they can to stay connected to others while adhering to social distancing guidelines.
The BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) says creative solutions are needed to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect people who use drugs, have underlying health conditions, or may be elderly. The novel coronavirus can cause a respiratory infection and other health problems, and fentanyl and other opioids can slow a person’s breathing rate. COVID-19 may increase the risk of overdose death when using opioids.
To practice safer drug use during this time, the BCCDC recommends people do not share items such as cigarettes, joints, pipes, injecting equipment, containers for alcohol, utensils and other supplies. If sharing is necessary, the centre advises wiping pipes with alcohol wipes or using new mouthpieces.
Reducing close contact and the use of condoms should be ensured, and hands should be washed before preparing, handling or using drugs. Surfaces should also be cleaned before preparing drugs, if possible.
Naloxone, as well as an overdose plan, should be carried and the centre asks that people use breathing masks – available in the take-home naloxone kits – if responding to an overdose.
While drug users are advised to buddy up, the BCCDC recommends staying two metres apart to avoid passing the virus. Checking in on buddies regularly is important, as well as finding someone who can bring food, harm reduction supplies, medicine and substances to stay well.
Drug users have a potential of going through involuntary withdrawal if their dealer gets sick, the BCCDC says, so having backup plans and being cautious if using a new supply is recommended.
The BCCDC does not anticipate supply chain disruptions and advises registered safe consumption sites to continue to order supplies as needed weekly or monthly to avoid stockpiling.
“Please continue to distribute supplies as usual, and note that if there is a specific request for supplies for an individual who requires quarantine or isolation, additional supplies may be provided for the 14-day period,” the BCCDC says.