By Andrea Woo / The Globe and Mail

British Columbia is moving to provide drug users with a take-home supply of regulated substances as part of its COVID-19 pandemic response strategy for vulnerable populations.

The City of Vancouver and drug policy experts have called for “safe supply” for some time, but reluctance from regulatory bodies and the province restricted the provision of drugs such as hydromorphone and methadone to clinical settings that require witnessed daily ingestion.

As the new coronavirus swept the globe, health officials issued directives for people to restrict their movements, stay home and self-isolate when necessary, presenting a major obstacle to people with chronic substance use disorders who are unable to stockpile their prescription medications.

In B.C., the extraordinary circumstance of having two active public health emergencies – COVID-19 and an overdose crisis caused by a toxic supply of drugs – made safe supply a reality.

Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said the move is particularly aimed at supporting people in places such as Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

“These guidelines enable us to provide a safe supply for people and to ensure that they’re able to comply with our public health advice around isolation or quarantine, should that be required," she said.

The move is made possible by recent changes to the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and provincial prescribing guidelines. Together, they allow prescribers and pharmacists to prescribe individualized take-home supplies of drugs, colloquially called “carries,” and pharmacists to deliver medications and extend or refill prescriptions over the phone.