The Trudeau government has rejected Alberta’s proposal to add a “unique chemical identifier” to pharmaceuticals offered to users under safe-supply programs so that authorities could track its street sales.

Federal Mental Health and Addictions Minister Ya’ara Saks said that while she shares the province’s concerns regarding substance diversion, she thinks adding a chemical identifier presents its own issues of impracticality. 

Since the government began collecting data on the problem in 2016, over 40,000 people have died as a result of Canada’s opioid crisis, with the majority of the recorded deaths last year involving fentanyl. 

British Columbia became the first province to offer drug users a supply of pharmaceutical alternatives in what is now known as “safe supply” programs.

However critics, including some addiction specialists, argue that the federal government should not be supporting these kinds of programs. 

The federal government began funding the distribution of hard drugs in Ontario and New Brunswick during the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, citing supply chain issues for drugs due to pandemic restrictions. 

Now critics are warning that users are only participating in programs to acquire drugs that they themselves can sell on the street for stronger alternatives. 

B.C.’s provincial health officer Bonnie Henry called the practice a “common occurrence” in her recent review of the province’s program, saying that diversion poses a threat to those not already using drugs. 

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has refused to set up such programs, instead offering Albertans more recovery-based options as opioid-related overdoses continue to increase in the province.  

Mental Health and Addictions Minister for the province Dan Williams asked federal Health Minister Mark Holland for “hard evidence” that safe supply programs were having a positive impact earlier this month.

Williams argued that adding a “unique chemical identifier that would allow testing of the drug’s origin” should be required of drugs prescribed under safe-supply programs.

Therefore, authorities would be able to track when safe-supply drugs were being diverted and to where. 

However, Saks doubts if that method would be of use in practice. 

“It is unclear how this would work in practice, given these drugs are not manufactured specifically for these programs and are also used for other medical purposes such as pain management,” wrote Saks in response to William’s request.   

“I have asked my officials to reach out to yours to discuss some of the potential practical issues with this proposition.” 

Saks believes that there are “misconceptions and misinformation” surrounding the safe-supply policy. 

“The idea that these programs are simply handing out drugs to anyone is false,” wrote Saks. 

Williams accused the Trudeau government of not taking the concerns of Albertans seriously in a statement released Tuesday.  

Several physicians wrote a letter to Saks after she said that the concerns of safe-supply programs were rooted in fear and stigma in an interview with the Canadian Press.

“Please do not use stigma and fear to justify the harms caused by diverted safer supply medications,” wrote several physicians in a joint letter to Saks, according to City News

“Street drugs should not be provided by government-funded programs. Funding of harm reduction programs needs to be contingent upon safe practices,” reads the letter.