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Safer Supply Program Can Reduce Engagement with Illicit Drug Market

September 15, 2020
by Julie Parry

Overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., and is driven by a toxic supply of fentanyl. Dispensing hydromorphone, a prescription opioid, to people at high risk of fentanyl-related overdoses can reduce their engagement with the illicit drug market and their overdose risk, according to first-of-its-kind research published on September 15, 2020 in Drug & Alcohol Dependence, led by Ryan McNeil, PhD, assistant professor of medicine and director of Harm Reduction Research with the Yale Program in Addiction Medicine.

“We are losing a devastating number of people to the ongoing overdose crisis and the situation has gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic,” explained McNeil. “The majority of fatal opioid-related overdoses now involve illicit fentanyl, a highly-potent opioid, and we need to find ways to address the toxic drug supply.”

In “Barriers and facilitators to a novel low-barrier hydromorphone distribution program in Vancouver, Canada: A qualitative study,” McNeil’s research team examined an innovative program that dispensed hydromorphone (commonly known as Dilaudid) through an overdose prevention site to people identified as being at high risk of fentanyl-related overdose. This program aimed to provide a safer, pharmaceutical alternative to illicit opioids as a harm reduction measure in a setting with a high prevalence of fentanyl.

“People reported that having access to hydromorphone made it possible to reduce their engagement with the illicit drug market and their constant need to hustle to generate money to support their drug use. This program represents one of the most promising approaches for addressing the needs of people at risk of fentanyl-related overdose by reducing their exposure to an increasingly toxic illicit drug supply that could kill them,” said McNeil.

Known for developing innovative treatment models, training programs and attracting leaders in the field, Yale Program in Addiction Medicine’s model programs have been replicated nationally and internationally. To learn more about their work, visit Yale Program in Addiction Medicine.

Submitted by Julie Parry on September 15, 2020