No widespread diversion of safe-supply drugs, says Farnworth

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 of the drugs in B.C.’s program offering prescription alternatives to people at risk of overdose from consuming toxic street drugs. They said officers had seen “an alarming trend” involving organized criminals who were redistributing safe-supply drugs. 

WATCH | No evidence safe-supply drugs being diverted into illegal market, say police:

No evidence to show safer supply drugs being diverted into illegal market: police

After Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre used a recent drug seizure in Prince George to criticize B.C.’s safer supply program, the B.C. RCMP is clarifying that there is no evidence to support a widespread diversion of safer supply drugs in the illegal market.

On Monday afternoon, however, B.C. RCMP assistant commissioner John Brewer said there is “currently no evidence to support a widespread diversion” of the legally prescribed substances to the illegal drug market.

“The seizure of prescription drugs, such as narcotics and opioids, that are no longer in the possession of their prescribed owner is something the police have had to deal with on many occasions,” he said in a statement. “However, the presence of confirmed safer supply prescriptions are in the minority of drug seizures.”

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 are “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 safe supply is keeping people alive. 

In an interview last Thursday with CBC News, Prince George RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Jennifer Cooper said police concluded the pills were improperly diverted after talking to “contacts at Northern Health,” who Cooper said told officers “that morphine and hydromorphone are designated safe supply prescription drugs.”

When pressed for more details on how officers confirmed the pills were in fact from doctor prescriptions, Cooper replied: “From the way we find them and when we complete our search warrants, we’re finding these drugs not in the hands of the intended users.”

WATCH | B.C. premier wants RCMP briefing on impact of safer supply:

B.C. premier wants RCMP briefing on impact of safer supply

David Eby says he is requesting a briefing from RCMP after police in Prince George said they had seized drugs from gang members that were intended for B.C.’s safer supply program.

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.

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

In December, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry released a review of B.C.’s safe supply program, 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. 

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