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Research & Surveillance

Harm Reduction Team in Baltimore

Sonya Ishiguro and Jane Buxton were part of our team at the National Harm Reduction conference in Baltimore. See the sidebar for all our recent publications and conferences.

Drug Use in BC Report

This comprehensive report takes a look at the most recent data regarding substance use in BC and its adverse consequences, while also including up to date information on harm reduction strategies. We’ve summarized some of the key findings below.

Substance Use Trends

Youth findings:

  • Among BC youth in school, self-reported use of all psychoactive substances declined from 2008 to 2013.
  • For street-involved youth in Victoria and Vancouver, crystal methamphetamine and cocaine are the most widely used illicit drugs after marijuana.

In a harm reduction client survey, drug use varied between regions:

  • Crack cocaine use is highest in the Northern Health region at 67%.
  • Heroin use is highest in Fraser Health at 54%.
  • Marijuana use is highest in Interior Health at 60%.

Among people who use illicit drugs in Vancouver:

  • Crack cocaine use has declined by more than half since reaching a high of 70% in 2008, but remains the highest reported drug used.
  • Crystal methamphetamine use reached its highest reported level to date in 2013 at 17.8%.

Crystal meth use in street-involved youth jumped


  • Tobacco use results in more hospitalizations than alcohol or illicit drugs though they are declining while alcohol is increasing and illicit drugs remains fairly static.
  • In Vancouver, alcohol is the main substance responsible for overdose-related emergency room visits.
  • In 2013, the BC Ambulance Service reported 2,011 naloxone administration events throughout BC.

HIV and Hepatitis C Virus


  • There continues to be a dramatic decline in new HIV cases among people who inject drugs — 29 in 2013 (same as 2012), down from 136 cases in 2003.
  • Newly diagnosed HIV cases generally declined from 408 cases in 2003 to 237 in 2012, including among people who inject drugs.
  • About 12% of cases were female
  • Over half of cases diagnosed in 2013 were identified as men who have sex with men. 


  • The diagnosis rate continues to be higher than the Canadian average.
  • HCV testing has increased annually with more than 200,000 in 2013. 
  • New effective treatments are being developed but are expensive and not yet widely available in BC.


  • Vancouver Downtown East Side has an overall mortality rate almost five times higher than the province.
  • In 2013, illicit drug overdose deaths in BC increased to over 300 deaths, the vast majority of which were accidental.
  • Since 2007, overdose deaths due to mixed drugs and multiple narcotics have been the leading cause of illicit drug deaths.

Harm Reduction

  • 76% of British Columbians support harm reduction.
  • In 2013, the harm reduction program distributed more than 4 million condoms throughout BC.
  • Needle/syringe distribution increased from almost 4.2 million in 2006 to over 8 million in 2013.
  • Almost half of clients who inject drugs reported difficulty acquiring needles, citing operating hours and distance as the main barriers.
  • In its first two years, the BC Take Home Naloxone program has 51 sites, trained 2,214 people, dispensed 1,215 naloxone kits and 125 overdose reversals were reported.
  • In a one-year period (2012-2013), there were 14,833 patients in BC’s methadone maintenance program.


  • Possession charges comprised almost 80% of Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) offenses in 2012.
  • In 2012, BC had four of the top five census metropolitan areas with the highest drug crime rate in Canada.
  • The rate of CDSA offences in Vancouver has consistently declined since 2006, with 2013 less than half the rate.
  • Of all BC drug offences in 2012, cannabis represented about 70%, cocaine 17% and heroin 2.9% but in Vancouver cannabis was 40%, cocaine 37%, and heroin 15%.
  • There were more pharmacy robberies and break-ins in the first six months of 2014 than in all 2013.
  • The estimated value of drugs seized by Canada Border Services Agency in 2013 was over $47 million CDN.

BC Take Home Naloxone Program Evaluation
CMAJ Open (August 2014)

Identifying the successes and challenges of implementing a provincial program in Canada.

Finding a Voice: Participatory Research With Street-Involved Youth in the Youth Injection Prevention Project
SAGE Journals (Sept 2014)

A viable research option that contributes to positive youth development and empowerment.

Tobacco use results in more hospitalizations than alcohol or illicit drugs in BC.

Canadian Public Health Association Conference (May 2014)

Trends in Opioid Use and Overdose in BC: Making the case for greater availability of Take Home Naloxone programs (Presentation - Ashraf Amlani)

Communicating Drug Alerts: Improving the Effectiveness of Drug Alerting to Reduce Harms Among People Who Use Illicit Drugs  (Poster - Yuko Baljak)

A Survey on Drug Use among Harm Reduction Clients in BC, 2013 (Poster – Sonya Ishiguro)

International Qualitative Health Research Presentations – Victoria (October 2014)

Reorienting Risk to Resiliency: Exploring the perspectives of street-involved youth on preventing transition to injection drug use (Ashraf Amlani)

Communicating Drug Alerts: Developing Guidelines Informed by People Who Use Drugs (Ashraf Amlani)

The use of sequential exploratory mixed methods to explore the consequences of a sudden change in methadone formulation and determine the prevalence of these consequences (Olivia Sampson)

National Harm Reduction conference – Baltimore (October 2014)

Communicating Drug Alerts: Developing Guidelines Informed by People Who Use Drugs (Presentation – Jane Buxton)

Drug Overdose and Alert Partnership, multi-sectoral collaboration to reduce harms associated with illicit drugs (Poster – Jane Buxton)

Time to wake up: Accessing Naloxone in Canada (Poster – Jane Buxton)

Patterns of Opioid Use in British Columbia, Canada: Results of the survey on drug use in harm reduction clients, 2013 (Poster - Sonya Ishiguro)

The relationship between needle sharing and needle distribution in British Columbia, Canada: Results of the survey on drug use in harm reduction clients, 2013. (Poster - Sonya Ishiguro)