British Columbia

Toxic drug supply leads to increased overdoses on Vancouver Island

The Island Health Authority is warning residents, particularly people who use drugs, about the increased number of overdoses on Vancouver Island in recent weeks, including the suspected overdose death of a 12-year-old girl in Langford, B.C.

Island Health launches overdose awareness campaign aimed at men

The Island Health Authority is targeting men who use drugs alone in a new outreach campaign to try to prevent overdose deaths. (BC Emergency Health Services/Contributed )

The Island Health Authority is warning residents, particularly people who use drugs, about the increased number of overdoses on Vancouver Island in recent weeks, including the suspected overdose death of a 12-year-old girl in Langford, B.C.

On April 22, Island Health issued an advisory about an increase in overdoses throughout the region. Officials say the advisory remains in place. 

"We remain incredibly worried around the state of this toxic drug poisoning crisis. It is worse than it's been before," Medical Health Officer Dr. Sandra Allison told All Points West host Kathryn Marlow on Thursday. 

In an effort to combat the crisis, the health authority has launched an outreach campaign aimed at men who use drugs alone. 

According to Island Health, 263 people in the region died of an illicit drug overdose last year. Of those, 225 were men, 126 of whom were using drugs alone at home. 

While messaging has been successful with other populations, Allison said there needs to be different conversations around drug use with men, who tend to use alone, and often work in the trades.

"We recognize that many people have pain and they treat their pain in different ways," she said. 

"The toxic street drug supply at this point in time, if that's what someone turns to, even if they're dabbling they're at incredible risk and that is affecting all segments of our population."

Allison stresses the importance of a safe drug supply, which she says has become more accessible. 

"New prescribing opportunities through [registered nurses] and registered psychiatric nurses being permitted to provide [methadone and suboxone] and other substitutions, are definitely a good step in the right direction."

All demographics affected by toxic drugs

Allison said the suspected overdose death of Allayah Thomas, a 12-year-old on Vancouver Island, is tragic.

"Certainly the years of life lost in a young person, it's just remarkable."

All demographics can be affected by the toxic drug supply, and youth are often experimental with drugs, Allison said, although the circumstances of Thomas's death are still unclear. 

Sarah Cubbage with the Mobile Youth Outreach Team in Nanaimo said reducing the stigma for all demographics in order to have honest conversations about drug use is key to reducing overdose deaths. 

Part of that education is advising people not to use drugs alone, staggering their drug use, and teaching them how to use naloxone, Cubbage said. 

"I grew up through the late '80s, '90s ... that was very much the time of 'Just don't do drugs and if you do drugs, you're going to die,'" she added.

"We know that with teenagers, you tell them not to do something, they're going to do it. So it's really just having those conversations and getting out the correct information. It's not fear-based and people are allowed to make their own choices outside of that."

Allison advises drug users to speak with their family physicians about harm reduction. Alternatively, they should speak with staff at an overdose prevention site. 

"The services that exist are open access, low barrier," Allison said. 

With files from All Points West

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