Home > Challenges of implementing safer supply programs in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic: a qualitative analysis.

Karamouzian, Mohammad and Rafat, Bijan and Kolla, Gillian and Urbanoski, Karen and Atkinson, Kate and Bardwell, Geoff and Bonn, Matthew and Touesnard, Natasha and Henderson, Nancy and Bowles, Jeanette and Boyd, Jade and Brunelle, Caroline and Eeuwes, Jolene and Fikowski, Jill and Gomes, Tara and Guta, Adrian and Hyshka, Elaine and Ivsins, Andrew and Kennedy, Mary Clare and Laurence, Gab and Martignetti, Lucas and Nafeh, Frishta and Salters, Kate and Tu, David and Strike, Carol and Pauly, Bernadette and Werb, Dan (2023) Challenges of implementing safer supply programs in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic: a qualitative analysis. International Journal of Drug Policy, 120, 104157. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2023.104157.

External website: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/...

BACKGROUND: Canada is experiencing an unprecedented drug toxicity crisis driven by a highly toxic unregulated drug supply contaminated with fentanyl, benzodiazepine, and other drugs. Safer supply pilot programs provide prescribed doses of pharmaceutical alternatives to individuals accessing the unregulated drug supply and have been implemented to prevent overdose and reduce related harms. Given the recent emergence of these pilot programs and the paucity of data on implementation challenges, we sought to document challenges in their initial implementation phase.

METHODS: We obtained organizational progress reports from Health Canada, submitted between 2020 and 2022 by 11 pilot programs located in British Columbia, Ontario, and New Brunswick. We analyzed the data using deductive and inductive approaches via thematic analysis. Analyses were informed by the consolidated framework for implementation research.

RESULTS: We obtained 45 progress reports from 11 pilot programs. Six centres were based in British Columbia, four in Ontario, and one in New Brunswick. Four overarching themes were identified regarding the challenges faced during the establishment and implementation of pilot programs: i) Organizational features (e.g., physical space constraints, staff shortages); ii) Outer contexts (e.g., limited operational funds and resources, structural inequities to access, public perceptions); iii) Intervention characteristics (e.g., clients' unmet medication needs); and iv) Implementation process (e.g., pandemic-related challenges, overly medicalized and high-barrier safer supply models).

CONCLUSIONS: Safer supply pilot programs in Canada face multiple inner and outer implementation challenges. Given the potential role of safer supply programs in addressing the drug toxicity crisis in Canada and the possibility of future scale-up, services should be well-supported during their implementation phases. Refining service provision within safer supply programs based on the feedback and experiences of clients and program administrators is warranted, along with efforts to ensure that appropriate medications are available to meet the clients' needs.

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