Project Solace Launches Campaign for Psilocybin Funding: Second Letter to Minister Jennifer Whiteside
To: Hon. Jennifer Whiteside,
Minister of Mental Health and Addictions
BC Legislature, Victoria, BC
Via Email: MMHA.Minister@gov.bc.ca
Date: Monday, September 18th, 2023
Dear Minister Whiteside,
We, the undersigned members of Project Solace, hope you are well and having a safe summer. Thank you once again for your ongoing public service and dedication to addressing the significant mental health and addiction challenges facing our province – and country.
This month marks the 20th anniversary of Insite. We applaud the leadership of both federal and provincial governments for increased investment in treatment and research into this program and reflect on the lives it has supported and saved. With heavy hearts, we acknowledge the many lives lost to this drug poisoning crisis and the lack of safe supply and treatment options.
On Friday, September 15th, we officially launched Project Solace, a provincial advocacy campaign; our initial goal is to secure provincial funding for psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy. We partnered with Conscious Mind Clinic, Gathering Groups, MAPS Canada, SABI Mind, The Victoria Association for Psychedelic Studies and associated healthcare professionals. Together, we gathered at the provincial legislature to mark the start of Project Solace and received coverage in the press. We have brought our cause to the legislature because, for some patients, this isn’t just a matter of improving their well-being; it’s a matter of life and death for them.
Please see some of the coverage and stories that came out after the event:
- CTV News Vancouver:
- The Georgia Straight:
- The Ottawa Citizen
We think of Jesse Merks, who is requesting funding from your ministry for his treatment with psilocybin. While Jesse has free access to Opioid Antagonist Therapies (OAT) like methadone and suboxone through MSP, he is unable to access psilocybin, a safe and effective plant-based medicine that has helped him with his substance use disorder and proven to be an alternative to prescription opioids.
We also think of Janis Hughes, a stage 4 cancer patient who was forced to go underground due to the administrative and financial barriers to access posed by the SAP. “If I had not gone underground for treatment, I might well have exercised my right to MAiD by now,” said Janis in a recent news story.
Both Jesse and Janis and hundreds more have had psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy and experienced a great deal of clinical success. They are supported by their doctors, and for them and many others, it has been a safe, effective, and now legal alternative to street drugs, OAT, and MAiD. British Columbians are looking for safeguards to MAiD and treatment alternatives in place of palliation for their substance use disorder. Why won’t our British Columbian government take the lead on this?
We brought Janis’s case and others to the Committee on MAiD, which recommended that Health Canada review the Special Access Program (SAP) and policies to determine ways to improve access to psilocybin. One of the most significant issues we face is the cost of psilocybin access through the SAP, which can cost $6,000 for a single treatment. Individuals enrolled in BC’s Medical Services Plan will have full coverage for medications used in MAiD, and as of June 2023, have full MSP coverage for OAT, which could cover up to $6,000/year. Why are we not looking into ways we might be able to spend that money on innovative treatments like psilocybin? What sort of message does this send to British Columbians like Jesse and Janis who have MSP coverage for MAiD and methadone but are determined to choose psilocybin as an alternative therapy?
Given the scale of the overdose crisis in BC, given the scale of the mental health and addiction crisis facing our communities, given the issues around safeguarding MAiD, and given you and your predecessor have said you are trying everything you possibly can, why have this safe and effective, plant-based treatment option been dismissed? Considering the government’s recent decision to decriminalize possession of far more dangerous controlled substances like cocaine and heroin, we cannot help but think that this legal and safe project would be a reasonable opportunity.
We propose an initial project to fund psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy, a much-needed relief to British Columbians facing dire circumstances and having limited options. Minister, time is of the essence.
We are calling on your leadership. We know how deeply you care about these issues and believe that this treatment project could save lives and help the provincial government better care for vulnerable patients with few options left. That is why we propose your Ministry start actively collaborating with care providers, and other non-profit associations, patients, care providers, licensed BC psilocybin producers, and researchers and invest in BC psilocybin treatment and research strategies that would include:
The combined investment required for these two elements of a BC psilocybin strategy is estimated at $6 million over the next 12-18 months – or ~$6,000/patient. The budget does not account for the significant savings that can be achieved by replacing more expensive, ongoing pharmaceutical solutions with a safe, plant-based medicine that often requires just one treatment for success in many cases. In the cases of suffering British Columbians who are seeking psilocybin as an alternative or adjunct therapy to MAiD, the price of this program is negligible compared to the value of reduced suffering. These compassionate investments also represent a small fraction of the $1 billion announced by the federal and provincial governments for mental health and addiction treatment initiatives earlier this year.
With this 2nd letter, we are asking again to meet with you and your officials before our next visit to the provincial legislature in October.
Thank you in advance for your consideration and your passion for change. Given the importance of the challenges we face together, we believe a more comprehensive reply is warranted, going beyond the brevity of five sentences.
We hope you will agree and find the compassion to consider these options and this leadership opportunity seriously.
Thank you for your attention on this important matter,
The undersigned members of Project Solace
Victoria Association of Psychedelic Studies (VAPS)
Conscious Mind Clinic