CHARBONNEAU – Forget hydromorphone, give them fentanyl

CANADA’S SAFER SUPPLY program is a good idea but the drug they hand out isn’t what users want. On the positive side, it does provide users with a safer alternative to the toxic, illegal drugs that they buy on the street.

“Safer supply services can help prevent overdoses, save lives, and connect people who use drugs to other health and social services,” says the Government of Canada website.

There are nine safer supply sites in B.C., all of them on the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.

Safer supply is controversial because drugs are given to addicts who are not in a recovery program. Why feed addiction?

Well, the option to giving addicts safe drugs is often death. Canada is in the midst of an opioid crisis that has killed over 35,000 people since 2016. So why not give them safer drugs?

Despite being a good idea, the safer supply problem has created unintended consequences: the drug that’s given out, hydromorphone, doesn’t satisfy the users’ need to get high the way fentanyl does.

“Fentanyl is a stupendously powerful synthetic opioid that leaves users with a formidable drug tolerance,” says reporter Adam Zivo.

“Those who use fentanyl generally don’t find that other, comparatively weaker, opioids give them a satisfying high (National Post, May 9, 1023).”

In Zivo’s investigative report, he found that a significant portion of the safer supply drugs end up being sold on the street.

Hydromorphone is being sold at rock-bottom prices. Proceeds of the sale are going to purchase often-deadly fentanyl.

The flood of hydromorphone on the street has reduced the price of a tablet to a fraction of what it once was.

According to a doctor in Vancouver, an 8-mg tablet of hydromorphone was $8 before safer supply. Then it dropped to $4 after Vancouver launched hydromorphone vending machines in 2020. The price dropped to between 25 and 33 cents per tablet after the safer supply program was expanded.

But why would drug users sell their hydromorphone to buy riskier street fentanyl?

“According to the addiction physicians I interviewed, although the typical 8-milligram tablet of hydromorphone given to addicts is four times the dose generally used in hospital settings, its effect relative to fentanyl is like holding a candle to the sun,” says Zivo.

The abundance of cheap hydromorphone has seen a rise of young people requesting help with dependence on hydromorphone. Because the tablets are so cheap, users often pop a handful which can be deadly.

Youth generally understand the risks of using fentanyl and therefore stay away from it. However, because hydromorphone is prescribed by a doctor and marketed as “safe,” young people underestimate its dangers and are more likely to try it.

Then, in an attempt to get a more intense high, some users are crushing hydromorphone tablets for intravenous injection, potentially leading to excruciating and disfiguring infections that have paralyzed some patients.

Dr. Sharon Koivu, an addiction physician with the London Health Sciences Centre, has noticed an increase in serious infections relating to intravenous drug use. Speaking with her patients, she learned that many of them were buying cheap hydromorphone, then crushing and injecting it.

The solution to the safer supply problem of hydromorphone is obvious: give addicts safe doses of fentanyl so they don’t die from the toxic stuff sold on the street.

David Charbonneau is a retired TRU electronics instructor who hosts a blog at

About Mel Rothenburger (9634 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on CHARBONNEAU – Forget hydromorphone, give them fentanyl

  1. The above comments indicate a lack of understanding of how additions and recovery work. Taking addicts to a Recovery Centre when they’re not ready to take that step does not mean they will recover. Doing some research will tell us that recovery works when the addict is committed to the process. And, we need to know the process is a difficult one and that’s why being fully committed to undertaking it is so important. An interesting and informative website on various international approaches to drug policy can be found by ‘googling’ : Drug Liberalization – Wikipedia. It provides 37 pages of information.

  2. Dennis Isfeld // May 20, 2023 at 7:52 AM // Reply

    Mr. Charbonneau, government hand out of drugs is not “a good idea”.

  3. Ken McClelland // May 20, 2023 at 7:11 AM // Reply

    What an idiotic society we are, giving addicts more drugs to keep them addicted rather than getting them the treatment they need….the “obvious” solution is no solution at all. It’s just easier, and makes us feel better, kind of an opiate for the masses.

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