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  • North America is facing a drug overdose epidemic. In 2021, over 100,000 overdose deaths occurred in the United States alone. Most of these deaths involved fentanyl, a powerful opioid that’s often laced in other drugs. 

    To fight fentanyl-related deaths, many people are joining the “safe supply” movement. 

    What Is The “Safe Supply” Movement?

    The safe supply movement is a public health initiative that aims to prevent overdose deaths among drug users

    It argues that North America’s overdose crisis is caused by its unregulated illicit drug supply. Due to this lack of regulation, people who buy drugs on the street or on social media don’t know if their drugs contain contaminants like fentanyl.

    A Response To Illicit Fentanyl

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fentanyl is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine. 

    Drug dealers add it to other drugs to give buyers a stronger high or to cut production costs (as fentanyl is relatively cheap to make). It’s been linked to numerous overdose deaths throughout the opioid crisis

    Safe supply advocates claim we can reduce overdose deaths by providing a regulated drug supply that has been tested for fentanyl and other contaminants. 

    Safer Supply Programs & Services

    People can pick up these drugs at safer supply programs. These programs, which are overseen by healthcare providers, are designed for people who face a high risk of drug overdose. 

    The programs may offer a variety of tested drugs, including opioids, stimulants, and benzodiazepines

    Some programs will only provide drugs to people who have been diagnosed with drug addiction (also called substance use disorder). Other programs will serve anyone who uses illicit drugs on a regular basis. 

    Along with providing uncontaminated drugs, some safer supply programs also offer other health and social services for people at high risk of overdose. These services may include:

    • mental health counseling
    • assistance with housing or employment
    • assistance with health problems that are common among people who use drugs, such as hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS
    • referrals to other health services, including addiction treatment services

    Where Are Safer Supply Programs Located?

    Currently, all of North America’s safer supply programs are located in Canada. 

    One of the country’s oldest programs operates in Vancouver. Vancouver is a major city in the Canadian province of British Columbia (B.C.) In April 2016, a sharp rise in overdose deaths led the B.C. government to declare a public health emergency.

    Canada’s safer supply programs are found in various settings, including medical clinics, community health centers, and supervised consumption sites. 

    Safer Supply Programs In The U.S.

    In the United States, people have been trying to start safer supply programs in New York City, Boston, San Francisco, and other large cities. However, the U.S. government has not yet legalized these programs. 

    Benefits Of The Safe Supply Movement

    Because safer supply programs are relatively new, there have not been enough studies to determine their effectiveness. However, early research suggests that the programs may improve the well-being of people who use drugs. 

    Better Health & Social Outcomes

    One study examined people with opioid addiction (also called opioid use disorder) who had not been helped by methadone (a medication that can ease opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms). 

    When these people were given injectable heroin and hydromorphone in a controlled setting, they had better health and social outcomes.

    Fewer ER Visits

    Another study found that people who joined a safer supply program in Ontario had fewer visits to the emergency room and hospital.

    Other Positive Effects

    Finally, in a recent study that was funded by Health Canada, many safer supply participants reported a variety of positive effects, including:

    • improved quality of life
    • reduced use of street drugs
    • reduced stress
    • improved sleep
    • improved chances of employment
    • improved relationships with friends and family

    These findings indicate that the safe supply movement could play an important role in reducing overdose deaths, which have skyrocketed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    Risks Of The Safe Supply Movement

    The safe supply movement is a form of harm reduction. Harm reduction refers to drug policies and practices that seek to reduce the negative effects of drug use. 

    Some people argue that harm reduction encourages drug use because it focuses on risk mitigation rather than addiction treatment. They may worry that the safe supply movement will only increase rates of drug use. 

    In addition, some people fear that people who receive drugs from safer supply programs will sell them on the illicit drug market.

    Do The Benefits Of Safe Supply Outweigh The Risks?

    Many safe supply advocates admit that the risks are real. 

    However, they argue that the risks don’t outweigh the potential benefit of reducing overdose deaths caused by fentanyl and other contaminants. They also point out that many safer supply programs can connect people with addiction treatment services.

    If you or someone you love struggles with drug abuse, please reach out to an Ark Behavioral Health specialist. Our compassionate treatment providers offer medical detox, behavioral therapy, and other evidence-based treatments to help you stay drug-free.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on February 17, 2023
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