A mixed methods evaluation of safer supply initiatives to reduce illicit drug overdose in BC

Funding bodies

CIHR, BC Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions


People who use drugs in BC continue to face unacceptable levels of risk and harm because of the toxic drug supply. The provincial public health emergency related to overdoses is now in its seventh year, with communities experiencing record high rates of overdose and a crisis worsened by COVID-19. Safer supply initiatives (in which people access pharmaceutical grade substances or a regulated supply) are one way that the government and communities are responding to this crisis. This study will evaluate the ongoing implementation and outcomes of safer supply initiatives in BC, including both prescriber-based and grassroots-led models.

People who use substances are involved in all phases, from initial design to data collection, analysis and reporting. Through a mix of outreach and consultation, surveys and interviews, and other study activities, we will together seek to answer questions about safer supply initiatives across BC, including what is being done, what is working well and what is not, and what else needs to be done – not only in cities, but also in rural areas, remote communities, and Indigenous communities. Our objectives are to:

  • Determine the impact of the BC government’s prescribed safer supply policy directive on the health of people who use drugs (including overdose, use of the unregulated drug market, mental health, use of other health services, and quality of life).
  • Identify barriers and facilitators to implementing prescribed safer supply across communities in BC (including perspectives from people with lived and living experience of substance use, prescribers, Indigenous organizations and communities, and others).
  • Explore potential unintended consequences of prescribed safer supply, including both harms and benefits to PWLLE and wider communities (e.g., consequences that arise because of the way that medications are prescribed; factors that are unique to rural, remote, and Indigenous communities; implications of dosages, criminalization, and lack of housing; and the impacts of sharing or selling medications to other people).
  • Explore the development of grassroots-led safer supply initiatives (those led by and for people with lived and living experience of substance use), including how these respond to facilitators, barriers, and outcomes of prescribed safer supply in BC.

Progress to date

This research will be conducted over 4 years, starting in 2022. Results are anticipated in 2025.


A full list of resources from this project is available here.

Related Projects


  • Dr. Karen Urbanoski (Co-PI)
  • Dr. Bernie Pauly (Co-PI)
  • Dr. Bohdan Nosyk (Co-PI, Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences, Simon Fraser University)
  • Dr. Amanda Slaunwhite (Co-PI, BC Centre for Disease Control, University of British Columbia)
  • Dr. Brittany Barker
  • Jenny Cartwright (Research Manager)