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B.C. to release report into economics of safe supply as part of larger review

Public Health Officer commissioned U.S. expert to review economics of safe supply
Health Minister Adrian Dix says the public will be able to review a report into the economics of safe supply commissioned by public health officer Bonnie Henry. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry is promising to release a commissioned report looking into the economics of safe supply.

“Under the independent authority of my office, I commissioned a research paper looking at some of the societal impacts of pharmaceutical alternatives (safe supply),” she said in a statement shared with media. “This included an economic analysis to help guide appropriate monitoring of the impacts of a safe supply program — a research paper prepared by Dr. (Jonathan) Caulkins.”

The paper itself is part of Henry’s larger review of the safe supply program announced in February.

“Our next report on pharmaceutical alternatives (safer supply) programs will be available next month,” she said. “We plan to make it public once complete and once my office has had an opportunity to brief the government. As usual, all research related to this work will also be publicly available.”

Henry’s statement said that Caulkins’ report is just one aspect of the review.

“It’s important that the economics of the drug market are taken into consideration as we investigate further, such as monitoring the price paid at various levels and purity of illegal drugs to understand how B.C.’s situation might align with or differ from scenarios described in the report,” she said.

Henry said that Caulkins’ research is not “an assessment or evaluation” of B.C.’s approach to safer supply.

“The paper represents the views and observations of the author,” she said. “It does not represent the views or positions of the Office of the Provincial Health Officer.”

Henry said her office is also working with other experts in the field including the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research based at the University of Victoria. “They have provided a literature review so we have a comprehensive understanding of what’s happening globally on this issue,” she said.

Caulkins comes highly credentialed. He holds a doctorate in Operations Research from MIT and teaches at Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, where he “specializes in systems analysis of problems pertaining to drugs, crime, terror, violence and prevention,” according to his biography.

Caulkins has co-authored several books, published a long list of peer-reviewed academic articles and has appeared frequently in media on both side of the U.S.-Canada border, either as a commentator or as an author himself.

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Caulkins’ paper has been the source of much speculation during the last 24 hours in the provincial legislature after B.C. United had mentioned it during Monday’s Question Period, first describing it inaccurately as a “secret memo” commissioned by the Premier’s Office.

Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside said Monday during Question Period she was unaware of the report, but told reporters Tuesday morning that Henry had comissioned it. Speaking at an unrelated event in Abbotsford Tuesday morning, Eby said he first heard of Caulkins’ name during Question Period.

“We followed up and learnt that Dr. Henry had commissioned a paper from this individual as part of a larger piece of work that she continues to do on the toxic drug crisis, hearing from all different perspectives about the best path forward for British Columbia,” he said.

Eby said this work falls within Henry’s role as independent public health officer, but added that there “occasionally moments of frustration like yesterday when the officer is doing work that we are not aware of.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix Tuesday chided the opposition for misrepresenting the report and said the public knew that Henry was going to do an at-large-review of the safe supply program. He also confirmed in Question Period that the report would be available. He said that himself has not seen the report, but added that he is familiar with Caulkins’ work.

B.C.’s United Elenore Sturko called for full transparency given the various issues around decriminalization and the diversion of safe supply as reported by two senior B.C. police officers.

“I think it’s incredibly important for that information to be transparent for the public,” she said. “We are at a time where our province is at a critical moment…and frankly, I think it is a failure of leadership that the ministers and the premier did not know about this report.”

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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