Canadian Study Finds Link Between Welfare and Overdoses

By John Lavitt 11/03/14

Researchers discovered an uptick in "overdose events" at safe injection sites on the same day that the government distributes welfare assistance.

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A Canadian study recently revealed a sharp spike in injection drug use when "Welfare Wednesday" comes around in British Columbia and government assistance checks are distributed. Beyond this upsurge, there was also a big increase in non-fatal drug overdoses. Published by the Urban Health Research Initiative at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, the study compiled data from Insite, the supervised injection site in Vancouver. 

“The daily number of injections at Insite was also significantly higher on the three days beginning with check-day than on other days,” the study explained. Even though no fatal overdoses occurred at the facility, multiple non-fatal overdoses were recorded. Between March 2004 and December 2010, there were a total of 1,138 “overdose events” at Insite.

Lindsey Richardson, a researcher involved in the study, believes the  higher risk for overdose could be the result of a sudden increased dosage and decreased tolerance. “As their money begins to run out, they might use less and less,” she said. “So if you combine that higher risk drug use with lower tolerance, you’re likely to see higher levels of drug overdose.”

The group will be conducting follow-up research to determine whether changing the check distribution schedule can reduce the frequency of overdoses. “What we are expecting is that it will decrease both levels of drug use, and disperse drug-related harm over the month," Richardson said. "Our goal in doing this type of research is to try and identify things that harm and things that can promote the health of people who use drugs…Hopefully we can identify solutions that work for both the individuals directly affected and the broader community."

A two-year trial will begin starting in March of 2015 with 300 participants. For six months, residents of the Downtown Eastside will get their welfare checks deposited directly to an account at Pigeon Park Savings. While some will still get a monthly payment, just not on Welfare Wednesday, others will get their checks bi-weekly. The researchers will monitor the usage rates and potential overdoses of participants, with the goal of discovering an effective alternative.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.