VICTORIA -- A new multimillion-dollar safe drug supply pilot program is coming to Vancouver Island.

Health Canada announced Wednesday that it would be providing roughly $2 million to create an accessible supply of safe drugs for people living in the Cowichan Valley.

The project involves giving hydromorphone tablets to some patients at the Cowichan Valley Wellness and Recovery Centre, who are selected by a licensed prescriber at the recovery centre.

The program will also offer wrap-around supports for patients, like medical care, mental health support, peer support options and personal support plans.

Health Canada says that the upcoming program is a pilot project for the federal government and is expected to run for four years.

Information will be collected and reviewed over the four-year period to see how similar supports can best be developed across Canada in the future.

“It has never been more important to provide harm reduction and treatment services to people who use drugs,” said Canada’s Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu in a release Wednesday.

“It is devastating to see that the pandemic has worsened the situation for Canadians struggling with substance use disorders in many parts of country, including Vancouver Island communities in British Columbia. Providing a safer alternative to street drugs will save lives and help people in Cowichan Valley access treatment and other supports,” she said.

Health Canada says the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increasingly toxic illicit drug supply on Vancouver Island.

The federal government believes that offering access to pharmaceutical-grade medication as an alternative to the island’s current street supply will “help save lives and improve health outcomes.”

The federal and B.C. governments say they are also working on improving housing, harm reduction treatment and other services for people who are recovering from drug addictions.

“This medication option will provide a life-saving alternative to the contaminated drug supply that is driving our drug poisoning crisis,” said Dr. Richard Stanwick, chief medical health officer for Island Health, in a release Wednesday.

“The recent increase in overdose deaths in communities within Island Health shows a clear need for better access to a safer drug supply.”

According to the BC Coroners Service, May 2020 marked the deadliest month in the province’s history for drug overdoses.

Approximately 170 people – an average of 5.5 per day – died of suspected illicit drug overdoses in B.C. in May.

To date, a total of 189 people have died of COVID-19 in the province since the pandemic began.