Overdose Prevention and COVID-19

March 26, 2020. Article by: Government of B.C.

This page was updated on June 23, 2020. We will continue to make updates as we receive new information. Download the BC COVID-19 Support app for emerging information and self-assessment tool. 


It is a very challenging time right now in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although you may feel so many things are outside your control, there are actions everyone can take. There are also essential supports and resources to help protect vulnerable people during this time, and that includes people who use substances.

Being informed can help your situation and others who may be struggling.

On March 17, 2020, COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency in our province. This means that in British Columbia there are two public health crises happening at the same time: the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing overdose crisis.

People are experiencing additional pressures – now is the time to support each other.

People who use drugs may have other health issues, including compromised immune systems. This may make them more vulnerable to infection, which if they contract COVID-19 can become very serious. It’s tricky to get accurate information out to everyone and follow best practices around public health advice at any time, but more so in a time of crisis. People who use substances may face other challenges including housing and food security. This may make it difficult to follow the advice being given for physical distancing (also called social distancing), isolating, and other measures.

There are things people can do to live in the safest way possible right now. Here is guidance for people who are unsheltered.

COVID-19 and harm reduction

The emergence of COVID-19 has left many people who use drugs wondering how this virus could impact access to harm reduction and other services. Here are resources to help you or people you know stay safer:

Information for health care and social services providers:

  • The Risk Mitigation in the Context Dual Public Health Emergencies is a guide to help health care providers support patients who use substances.
  • E-OPS are overdose prevention services provided to people outside of established overdose prevention sites (OPS) and supervised consumption services (SCS). Health and social services staff may receive requests from clients to observe substance use and respond to overdose outside OPS and SCS locations. Read this guidance to help reduce the risk to people’s safety.

COVID-19 and access to medications

The BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) has been working with provincial partners to make sure people prescribed Opioid Agonist Treatment (OAT) can continue to access their medication during COVID-19. If you are prescribed OAT, read the BCCSU bulletin COVID-19: Information for Opioid Agonist Treatment Prescribers and Pharmacists.

Get more information on how to access medications at the BC College of Pharmacists.

The Province has also amended the Pharmacy Operations and Drug Scheduling Act Bylaws and the Community Pharmacy Standards of Practice to allow temporary exemptions for prescription of controlled substances. These temporary exemptions made under the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act will:

  • Permit pharmacists to extend and renew prescriptions
  • Permit pharmacists to transfer prescriptions to other pharmacists
  • Permit prescribers to verbally prescribe prescriptions with controlled substances

Housing concerns during COVID-19

BC Housing has information for landlords and tenants on housing issues that relate to the current situation with COVID-19. There is also a helpful fact sheet for people who currently do not have shelter.

Remember, information and advice on COVID-19 and the overdose public health emergency is changing quickly. Information on StopOverdoseBC.ca will be updated as new information becomes available. Check for updates on mental health and substance use supports regularly.

Please note, social or physical distancing means spending more time at home. Home isn't always a safe place for everyone.

Physical, verbal, or sexual abuse at any time, at any age, or in any relationship is not okay.

Call VictimLinkBC at 1-800-563-0808 for confidential support, information, and referral services if you are feeling unsafe at home. Children and teens can call the Kids Help Phone to speak to a counsellor day or night at 1-800-668-6868. Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number if you or someone you know is in immediate danger.

Other resources related to COVID-19