VICTORIA -- The federal government says it will provide more than $15 million to fund safe drug-supply projects in Victoria and Vancouver.

The four projects will offer a medical alternative to toxic street drugs for opioid users in the two cities. The initiatives also intend to connect opioid users with health and social services.

“The COVID-19 outbreak is worsening the situation for people struggling with substance use disorder in communities across the country,” said federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu in a statement Monday.

“We must do more to address the devastating consequences that the toxic illegal drug supply is having on many parts of Canada,” Hajdu added. “Working with these organizations and the Province of British Columbia, the support we are providing to these life-saving initiatives is another way we are helping people from Vancouver and Victoria, who are at risk of overdose, stay safe and find access to care and treatment for substance use disorder.”

B.C.’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions says the province has been asking for additional federal funding to tackle the opioid epidemic in the province.

“I'm pleased that Health Canada is working with us to help separate more people from the toxic drug supply,” said Sheila Malcolmson. “I'm grateful to the frontline organizations whose critical work is so vital to B.C.'s overdose response and the people they serve."

Oak Bay police Chief Ray Bernoties called the announcement “good news” in a social media post on Monday. “Safe supply equals lives saved,” he tweeted. “There are many other benefits as well…but none more important than that.”