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Prince George RCMP drug seizures ignite safe supply debate

Prince George RCMP said officers have seized thousands of prescription drug pills, diverted from the province’s safe supply program, in the course of two separate local investigations.

The Mounties’ announcement caught the attention of Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who raised the issue during a Friday appearance at a Greater Vancouver Board of Trade (GVBOT) event. He told the audience Canadian tax dollars are paying for organized criminals to get their hands on the prescribed drugs and promised to put an end to it.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith also commented on the Prince George seizures, and said drugs diverted from B.C.’s program could cause harm in her province.

Advocates for the safe supply program are, however, defending efforts to provide safer drugs for users who would otherwise turn to a toxic, illicit drug supply that has been blamed for thousands of deaths in B.C. since a public health emergency was declared in 2016.

Prince George investigations

Cpl. Jennifer Cooper with Prince George RCMP said investigators in one case seized more than 10,000 individual pills, including hydromorphone, an opioid painkiller sometimes prescribed to drug users, codeine, a common prescription opioid painkiller, dextroamphetamine, which is used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, and gabapentin, used to treat partial seizures and nerve pain.

The prescription drugs were found alongside suspected fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine, according to Cooper.

In the second investigation, she said police seized cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as thousands more prescription pills. Cooper said the prescription drugs included the opioids oxycodone and morphine, as well as more hydromorphone.

“We’re still finding them in their prescription bottles, but not in the hands of the people they’re prescribed to,” Cooper said.

“They’re not safe. They’re not safe for people to be taking,” she said. “These are very potent drugs and opioids, and they’re only safe if you’ve been prescribed them by a doctor.”

Cooper said police have been noticing an “alarming trend” in which safe supply drugs are diverted from the program by organized crime groups and some of which are sold outside the province.

Politicians take note

Smith said on Friday that her province made it illegal to provide safe supply to drug users, but “unfortunately, that does not stop organized criminals from bringing it here illegally from other provinces.”

Smith said she has requested an emergency meeting between the federal public safety and mental health and addiction ministers and her counterparts in B.C.

B.C. Premier David Eby, however, downplayed the concerns, saying the vast majority of drugs seized in the cases cited by Smith were not from the safe supply program.

Eby said medical professionals who administer safe supply to drug users monitor for risk and “do everything possible to minimize the risk of diversion.

“If there is a gap in that process we want to address it right away,” he said.

Poilievre told the GVBOT audience that drugs being diverted from the safe supply program was “insanity.”

“I will put an end to it. We will stop funding drugs, and start funding treatment and recovery to bring our loved ones home drug-free,” he said, without commenting on the prescription drugs seized that weren’t connected to the safe supply program.

WATCH | Pierre Poilievre says he’ll stop funding drugs:

Pierre Poilievre promises to end safer supply drug program following B.C. bust

7 hours ago

Duration 0:26

After Prince George RCMP said prescription drugs are being resold by gangs, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre promised once again to end safer supply programs if he becomes prime minister.

Ongoing public health emergency

Last year, a record 2,511 British Columbians died as a result of unregulated drugs, the equivalent of nearly seven deaths a day. That represents a five per cent increase compared with the previous high of 2,383 deaths recorded in 2022.

Health officials have launched a safe supply program in the province in an attempt to reduce the deaths, but according to Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, the program needs to be broadened.

“The program does not go far enough in terms of the medical model to meet those needs,” Henry said last month. “The medical model must be expanded.”

The safe supply program reaches less than four per cent of the province’s estimated 115,000 people who live with opioid use disorder.

Henry released a review of the prescribed safe supply program in B.C. in December.

That review said some safe supply clients report diverting hydromorphone in order “to obtain fentanyl or other substances that adequately address their withdrawal and cravings” or to help others who cannot access the program.

‘Fuelling a misinformation campaign’

For Juls Budau, who did frontline community work in Prince George for four years before recently moving to Victoria to work on a masters degree in social work, the politicization of the safe supply issue just makes it harder to help people who live with drug use.

“It’s really damaging, and it’s fuelling a misinformation campaign,” said Budau.

“These pills have been trafficked for decades. The fact that they’re calling them safe supply pills is a bit troubling,” she said of the RCMP announcement.

“The seizure is just used to diminish a program that we all said isn’t enough from the beginning,” Budau said, echoing Eby’s observations that many of the prescription drugs included in the seizures have nothing to do with the safe supply program.

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