Preventing Withdrawal & Other Harms During 2 Health Emergencies

April 29, 2020. Article by: Government of B.C.

This page was updated on April 29, 2020. We will continue to make updates as we receive new information. Download the BC COVID-19 Support app for emerging information and a self-assessment tool. Check for updates on mental health and substance use supports regularly.


During the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone needs to take steps to be safe. Some protocols may be much different than those you are used to, but innovative approaches are needed at this time to prevent the spread of this virus and keep people safe.

For people who use drugs or alcohol, there are additional challenges and barriers right now that can increase the risk of withdrawal and other harms.

COVID-19 and the use of substances

Buying drugs or alcohol may involve being out in public and coming into contact with others. Meeting others in-person multiple times a day to buy substances, going to the pharmacy several times a day for a prescription alternative, or purchasing illicit substances on the street, can increase your risk of acquiring or spreading COVID-19.

The COVID-19 outbreak is happening at a time when B.C. is staring down another public health emergency, the overdose crisis. Fentanyl continues to be detected in more than 4 of every 5 overdose deaths, showing that the drug supply in our province continues to be highly unpredictable and toxic.

With the current COVID-19 pandemic, the drug supply is becoming more unpredictable and contaminated by the day, as the global supply chains are disrupted by the response to COVID-19.

If you use substances – including alcohol – on a regular basis, quitting “cold turkey” can be dangerous. Stopping your use of substances in an abrupt or immediate way can cause withdrawal symptoms. This can be very dangerous and possibly deadly. 

Safer, prescribed medications can help people who use drugs follow the public health advice for physical distancing while also avoiding withdrawal and other harms.

How to stay safer

New guidance has been put in place to help people who use drugs and/or alcohol be safer during this time.

Talk to your health care provider now about prescription medications and other ways to prevent harm. If you do not have a doctor, call 8-1-1.

A doctor or nurse practitioner will make a plan with you about how to limit your contact with others, and if prescription options are right for you.

Get more information about reducing the risk of withdrawal and other harms.

Remember, at this time everyone is being asked to:

  • Reduce time in public spaces
  • Reduce physical contact with others
  • Keep 2 metres (6 feet) of physical distance between you and others

Other resources related to COVID-19

For medical-related queries, call 8-1-1 or visit

For non-medical-related, call 1-888-COVID-19 or visit