Dr. Bonnie Henry has issued a public health order giving registered and psychiatric nurses the power to prescribe safer opioids to those struggling with substance use.
The move marks the latest efforts by top provincial health officers to curb a months-long spike in fatal overdoses, powered by an increased toxicity in street-level drugs and COVID-19 protocols forcing many to use alone and indoors.
Under the Health Professions Act, eligible nurses will now be able to “prescribe specific drugs, including controlled substances, to manage or ameliorate the effects of substance use by a person who is diagnosed as having a problem substance use condition or substance use disorder,” the order reads.
B.C. has been under a provincial health emergency since 2016 due to the opioid crisis. Since then, more than 4,000 people have lost their lives to drug poisonings – a majority due to illicit fentanyl, a powerful opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
Between January and July of this year, 900 people fatally overdosed.
“We know the pandemic has only made the street drug supply in B.C. more toxic than ever, putting people who use drugs at extremely high risk for overdose,” Henry said in a statement.
“Giving physicians and nurse practitioners the ability to prescribe safer pharmaceutical alternatives has been critical to saving lives and linking more people to treatment and other health and social services.”
Until today, physicians and nurse practitioners were the only health officials given the authority to provide safe alternative drugs.
Hydromorphone pills are being prescribed but injectable and powder forms of the drug as well as other medications are under consideration as alternatives to substances such as fentanyl that are on the street, Henry told the Canadian Press.
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