British Columbia says it's bringing in a new policy that will expand access to safer prescription drugs for people at risk of overdose and death from toxic substances, without expecting them to enter treatment.
The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions says people who have been clinically assessed will get alternatives including oral opioids to replace drugs that could be laced with potentially deadly fentanyl.
It says substitutes include fentanyl patches already being used, and for the first time fentanyl tablets, as well as expanded use of injectable and tablet hydromorphone in clinical settings — and a referral won't be required.
The ministry says the program will be available through clinics that currently prescribe alternatives to illicit drugs, which may be expanded as it waits for implementation plans that are due back from health authorities at the end of the month.
Doctors reluctant to prescribe medications to substance users are expected to be provided with training, and the prescribed drugs will be covered by PharmaCare.
The provincial coroners service says 851 people died of suspected drug toxicity between January and May, surpassing the previous high of 704 deaths reported for those months in 2017 by almost 21 per cent.