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'Secret report' or standard research? B.C. government addresses safe supply allegations

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B.C.’s premier and one of his top lieutenants are pushing back against allegations by the Official Opposition that he covertly commissioned a report into the diversion of safe supply drugs onto the streets.

On Monday, BC United MLAs accused David Eby of having a “secret report” on his desk from an American professor who researches and analyzes public health and drug policy. Elenore Sturko went so far as to claim it outlined “how organized crime is taking advantage of the premier’s safe supply program.”

The allegations during question period were rebuffed by Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside, who said she wasn’t “familiar with the report.” And on Tuesday, Eby said Sturko’s questions were the first he’d heard of it either, because his office had nothing to do with it.

“This is a paper that was commissioned by Dr. (Bonnie) Henry in her role as the independent public health officer and decisions about how and when she releases that information that she’s been collecting are entirely up to Dr. Henry,” Eby told reporters when questioned about the document, acknowledging mild frustration his administration was unaware of the document.

Health Minister Adrian Dix later explained that there had been a public request for proposal for analysis of the impact of pharmaceutical drugs prescribed to authorized drug users that have ended up on the illicit street market, a frequent recent talking point by opposition politicians, for which Jonathan Caulkins had been paid $11,500.

“(The report) is around the impact of a safer supply on drugs, on markets, on illicit drug markets, those are the kinds of issues,” Dix said. “Dr. Henry is looking at the issue of prescribed safe supply and what impact it has on people and the community…. she seeks lots of different perspectives, as you’d expect, and she did in this case and it seems pretty reasonable to me.”

In February, Henry presented a report urging the expansion of safer supply to curb toxic drug deaths. This second report, on the diversion of those drugs to the streets, is expected in May or June, according to Dix.

Caulkins is a researcher and professor at Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, and has described the destigmatization of drugs use as a “mistake.”

British Columbia’s New Democrat government has been championing a destigmatization path for several years, including a pilot project decriminalizing the possession of hard drugs for personal use, and Eby was defensive when asked if he felt any urgency to provide government findings and research on the toxic drug crisis to the public.

“I feel huge urgency around the issue, I couldn’t feel more urgent about this issue,” he replied. “We’ve got thousands of people dying, we’ve got serious issues of disorder in a number of communities that need to be addressed.”

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