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“COVID just kind of opened a can of whoop-ass”: The rapid growth of safer supply prescribing during the pandemic documented through an environmental scan of addiction and harm reduction services in Canada

Published onJun 09, 2022
“COVID just kind of opened a can of whoop-ass”: The rapid growth of safer supply prescribing during the pandemic documented through an environmental scan of addiction and harm reduction services in Canada
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“COVID just kind of opened a can of whoop-ass”: The rapid growth of safer supply prescribing during the pandemic documented through an environmental scan of addiction and harm reduction services in Canada
Description

Objectives In the context of the ongoing overdose crisis, a stark increase in toxic drug deaths from the unregulated street supply accompanied the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Injectable opioid agonist treatment (iOAT – hydromorphone or medical-grade heroin), tablet-based iOAT (TiOAT), and safer supply prescribing are emerging interventions used to address this crisis in Canada. Given rapid clinical guidance and policy change to enable their local adoption, our objectives were to describe the state of these interventions before the pandemic, and to document and explain changes in implementation during the early pandemic response (March–May 2020). Methods Surveys and interviews with healthcare providers comprised this mixed methods national environmental scan of iOAT, TiOAT, and safer supply across Canada at two time points. Quantitative data were summarized using descriptive statistics; interview data were coded and analyzed thematically. Results 103 sites in 6 Canadian provinces included 19 iOAT, 3 TiOAT and 21 safer supply sites on March 1, 2020; 60 new safer supply sites by May 1 represented a 285% increase. Most common substances were opioids, available at all sites; most common settings were addiction treatment programs and primary care clinics, and onsite pharmacies models. 79% of safer supply services were unfunded. Diversity in service delivery models demonstrated broad adaptability. Qualitative data reinforced the COVID-19 pandemic as the driving force behind scale-up. Discussion Data confirmed the capacity for rapid scale-up of flexible, community-based safer supply prescribing during dual public health emergencies. Geographical, client demographic, and funding gaps highlight the need to target barriers to implementation, service delivery and sustainability.

 

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