Critics are raising concerns that drugs from Vancouver’s groundbreaking safe-supply narcotic vending machines could be ending up in the hands of youth.
The MySafe machines dispense hydromorphone, a medical-grade opioid, providing people with addiction a life-saving alternative to the toxic drugs circulating on the street.
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The first machine of its kind was rolled out in Vancouver in 2019 as a part of a pilot project, which has since expended to Victoria, London, Ont. and Dartmouth, N.S.
The MySafe machines are meant to provide people with addiction access to a safer drug alternative without fear, shame or stigma. Participants in the program are assessed by a doctor
But some people working in the recovery sector say kids aged 16 and 17 are getting their hands on the product coming out of the machines.
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“Their friends and them are accessing safe supply because they want to use it recreationally and they know, relatively, that it’s safer than the alternative,” Jessica Cooksey, director of operations with the Last Door Recovery Centre, told Global News.
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“They’ve specifically mentioned taking transit downtown and purchasing.”
The process is what academics call “diversion.”
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People with prescriptions to get the safe-supply drugs from the machines then sell them for cash, often to buy other drugs, food or necessities.
BC Liberal mental health and addictions critic Elenore Sturko said the safe supply system needs better management.
“There needs to be oversight so that any drugs that are being publicly funded and supplied, addictive drugs, that there are safety measures in place and other ways of having that supervised to make sure they’re not falling into the wrong hands,” she said.
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Staff at the Last Door Recovery Centre say supports must be increased to prevent diversion of substances to youth.
“It’s good people know how to access a safe supply, but it also exposes people to have access that wouldn’t necessarily have readily access,” she said.
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The concerns come just days before British Columbia is set to decriminalize the possession of small quantities of drugs.
Starting Jan. 31, adults found to be in possession of up to 2.5 grams of illicit drugs will not be arrested or charged, a process meant to prevent drug users from getting caught in a cycle of criminalization and incarceration.
Police will instead offer drug users information on available health and social supports, and offer referrals to treatment when requested.
The decriminalization comes under a three-year exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
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