A new multi-year PHS project will provide life-saving pharmaceutical alternatives to toxic street drugs.

The SAFER Initiative – Safer Alternative for Emergency Response – will provide a flexible and low-barrier safer supply of pharmaceutical-grade opioids and stimulants to those most at risk of overdose death.

It will be delivered by PHS Community Services Society in conjunction with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and British Columbia Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU), funded by Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program.

PHS has long advocated for safer supply initiatives to give people who use drugs an alternative to the increasingly toxic illicit supply.

“We are four years into a public health crisis in overdose deaths and seeing record-setting numbers of fatalities,” said PHS CEO Micheal Vonn. “The need for more accessible alternatives to lethally toxic street drugs couldn’t be more urgent. SAFER will save lives. Full stop.”


Providing safe alternatives to toxic street drugs is a gamechanger. The solution to lethal drugs is non-lethal drugs.

Programs treating opioid use disorder have typically focused on those with entrenched addictions, but SAFER will be open to anyone using illicit opioids or stimulants or otherwise clinically identified as at risk of overdose.

Announced early February 2021, SAFER will integrate harm reduction, public health, social services and addiction medicine, providing care for up to 200 people per year.

As PHS Director of Programs Susan Alexman informed The Tyee: “Our goal is to really look at the individual in totality, not just in terms of their safer supply needs, but also ensuring they have access to other needs and that they continue to be successful.

“We want participants to be able to tell us they feel safe and listened to and that they had some choice in the medical care they were given. And that they have power over their decision-making and their health.”

Innovative therapies

SAFER will open late spring/early summer. PHS, VCH and BCCSU have been working together on operational and clinical guidelines, introducing new innovative therapies, as well as building on their expertise in the areas of injectable opioid agonist treatment (iOAT), tablet (TiOAT) programs and risk mitigation guidance, as well as research protocols to evaluate its impact.

Launching the project, VCH Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Patricia Daly said: “The drug supply is more contaminated than ever and now is the time to talk about a safer drug supply for those people who are consuming illegal drugs. Our SAFER program is a step towards that.

“Vancouver Coastal Health, PHS Community Services Society and the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use thank the federal government for funding our proposal to support people most at risk of overdose and to ultimately save lives.”

The entire PHS team is delighted to be at the forefront of innovation by delivering this safe drug supply program.