Slowly Dying: Canadian teens hooked on opioids via "safer supply"
Investigation suggests lower-income youth in Vancouver suburb could be collateral damage of safer supply programs and "dillies"
Editor’s Note: Vancouver has become an international centre for fentanyl trafficking by transnational crime groups that have used Canada for production and trans-shipment because of weak federal laws, according to The Bureau’s law enforcement sources. In forthcoming reports The Bureau will investigate the opioid crisis in North America and ask whether successive governments have ignored whistleblower warnings. Arguably, the federal and British Columbia governments’ current experiment with decriminalization of quantities of fentanyl, morphine, heroin, and expanded medical distribution of so-called “safer supply” could be exacerbating a problem that stemmed from needlessly lax port security in Vancouver and the resulting infiltration of powerful Triads. In this story, political columnist Adam Zivo unpacks his deep investigation into impacts on youth in the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam.
By Adam Zivo for The Bureau
Madison was just 13 when she first tried hydromorphone, a drug commonly known as “dillies.”
She quickly became addicted and, after a few months, began abusing fentanyl.
It almost killed her several times.
Now, two years later, she is in recovery and wants Canadians to understand that hydromorphone abuse is rampant among her peers in Port Coquitlam.
And she believes Canada’s ill-conceived “safer supply” programs are a big part of the problem.
“Safer supply” is an experimental policy that provides free pharmaceutical opioids as an alternative to potentially-tainted illicit substances.
Health Canada claims that safer supply reduces overdoses and deaths.
But since January, I have interviewed over 25 addiction medicine experts who claim that widespread fraud has actually rendered the policy a failure.
The problem is that hydromorphone, the primary drug distributed by safer supply, is too weak to get fentanyl users high, even though it is as potent as heroin.
Experts widely allege that drug users consume just enough hydromorphone to pass urine tests, and then traffic – or divert as the experts euphemistically say – the rest on the black market, to purchase harder substances.
The market impact of diversion is stunning.
Addiction physicians across Canada claim it has caused hydromorphone’s street price to collapse by 70 to 95 per cent in areas where safer supply programs are active, and that the drug often ends up being sold to individuals with lower opioid tolerances.
[editor’s note: the United States D.E.A. says hydromorphone can be up to eight times more potent than morphine, and its street names include ‘D, Dillies, Dust, Footballs, Juice, Smack.’]
This has allegedly led to a wave of new addictions, particularly among youth.
Madison’s experiences poignantly illustrate this tragedy.
We spoke on the phone one weekend in early June while she was in rehab.
The 15-year-old’s voice, though soft and vulnerable, sometimes swelled with pain and indignation as she recounted what opioids had done to her.
“It’s not okay that people aren’t seeing this and how it’s destroying lives,” she said. “Not only our lives, but our family’s lives. And everyone around us.”
According to Madison, dillies suddenly became ubiquitous among her peers shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic subsided, a year or two after safer supply programs were scaled up by the federal government.
Around 2021, an old friend learned about hydromorphone and started procuring it from downtown Vancouver to sell to Port Coquitlam teens, she said.
The dealer allegedly told her that hydromorphone is “just a pain reliever and that it doesn’t hurt you and that it’s actually good for you.”
She remembers the first time vividly.