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No widespread diversion of B.C. safe-supply drugs, says Farnworth after RCMP briefing

British Columbia’s solicitor general says there’s no evidence of widespread diversion of safe-supply opioids, after a recent drug seizure was cited by Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre to criticize the provincial program.

Mike Farnworth says he’s spoken to the RCMP’s commanding officer in B.C. about the seizure in Prince George and was told that the idea that there is widespread diversion is “simply not true.”

He says Smith and Poilievre shouldn’t have made claims about the seizure without waiting for all the information.

RCMP in Prince George said last week that the seized pills included morphine and hydromorphone, two drugs that are part of B.C.’s program offering prescription alternatives to people at risk of overdose from consuming toxic street drugs.

Farnworth says “some but not all” of the drugs seized in Prince George and in another investigation in Campbell River were from the safe supply program.

Smith said on Friday she was concerned that diverted safe supply drugs from B.C. may end up being trafficked to Alberta, while Poilievre pledged to scrap the provincial program if he becomes prime minister.

Farnworth said in a hallway of the legislature on Monday that both politicians should have waited for more details.

“Basing your statements on one single news report without waiting for all the information is not the … right way to go about things,” he said.

He alluded to the possibility of prescription pill counterfeiting, saying criminal organizations were “extremely sophisticated in terms of how they can make things look.”

B.C. Premier David Eby said he had spoken to Smith about her concerns and he “made a commitment” that B.C. officials are “happy to meet with her to receive any information or evidence that they have of diversion.”

When Eby was asked about Poilievre’s comment over the weekend, he said he was reluctant to speculate about the actions of future governments, but said the direction is clear for B.C. and it was keeping people alive. 

In response to a request for details on whether any of the pills seized in Prince George had originated from the safe supply program, RCMP Staff Sgt. Kris Clark sent an email saying police would not provide further information.

In the RCMP news release last week, Cpl. Jennifer Cooper said police had noticed “an alarming trend over the last year,” uncovering increasing amounts of prescription drugs in drug-trafficking investigations.

The pills are being used as a form of currency to purchase more potent, illicit street drugs, she added.

Cooper also said, “organized crime groups are actively involved in the redistribution of safe supply and prescription drugs,” some of which are resold outside B.C.

Eby told an unrelated news conference on Monday that there is always a risk that prescription medications could be diverted to people they’re not intended for. 

The majority of hydromorphone prescribed in B.C. is prescribed for pain, he said. 

“It doesn’t matter the source of the diversion. If there is diversion from British Columbia, from a pharmacy, from individuals, we want to address that issue,” Eby said.

“We want to keep people safe, and we want make sure that we’re addressing the toxic drug crisis.”

The goal of B.C’s safe supply program is to “get people away from the toxic drugs on the street, to get between them and predatory drug dealers, with a health-care professional … to keep them alive so they can get into treatment,” Eby said.

He said he hears from addiction doctors that they find the program effective to keep people alive, engage with them, and get them into treatment. 

“That doesn’t mean that we would accept diversion of these drugs that could put other communities or other individuals at risk,” Eby said.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry released a review of B.C.’s safe supply program in December, finding some clients reported 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. 

“The impact of using diverted prescription opioids on people at current risk of unregulated drug poisoning remains unclear,” the report said. 

Anecdotal reports suggest youth may be accessing the diverted drugs, but current B.C. data does not indicate an increase in opioid use disorder among them, the report said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2024.

Dirk Meissner and Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press

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