Experts criticize Alberta safe supply committee report

May 27, 2022

Earlier in May, a group of over 50 clinicians and researchers from across Canada, including one director of harm-reduction research at Yale University, published an open letter criticizing the Alberta government’s commissioned report on safe supply.

As part of its evaluation regarding the potential effects of safe supply programs on reducing overdose-related deaths, an Alberta legislative committee tasked Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health & Addiction with conducting a rapid research review on the topic in January 2022.

The review, titled “Public Supply of Addictive Drugs,” was written by a team of four researchers from Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction.

In the review, the authors stated they chose to use the term “public supply of addictive drugs (PSAD),” instead of “safe supply”, which would presume the outcome of the review. In the report, the researchers concluded that in all the research they had examined, they found no evidence of benefits to adopting safe supply.

In response to the review an open letter letter was published by the B.C. Centre on Substance Use and stated that the report was determined to be of “critically low-quality” after being evaluated by AMSTAR, a tool used to evaluate the quality of publications. Moreover, the open letter also states that the rapid report was found to exclude key studies and included “a number of irrelevant” ones.

“It just does not stand up to established scientific standards,” said Dr. Thomas Kerr, director of research for the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) in an interview with CBC News. ” [The authors] skipped a number of important steps in conducting the review, and it just simply doesn’t reflect the state of the evidence in the area,” he added.

Other significant criticisms of the report contained in the open letter include the following :

  • the report’s conclusion not being based on existing evidence
  • lack of examination of the range of clinical opinions on safe supply
  • failure to include the perspectives of individuals who would benefit from safe supply
  • misrepresentation of the full range of recommendations of researchers currently evaluating safe supply,
  • failure to provide scientifically-based recommendations
  • flawed analysis of cost and cost-effectiveness

“It is too early to make firm conclusions such as those offered by authors of this report,” the letter states. “Given the ever-escalating opioid overdose crisis, decisions must be based on rigorous empirical studies and reviews.”

All NDP members of the committee resigned in April, accusing the Alberta government of creating a speaker list that only includes experts opposing safe supply. The committee was tasked to prepare a report with recommendations by April 30, but the deadline has now been extended to June 30.