Nova Scotia’s provincial health department tracks and compiles a detailed and concise report outlining which illicit drugs are impacting communities across the province.
November’s report titled, “Nova Scotia Drug Report – Drugs & Substances,” provides concise information from “frontline reports” around which drugs have led to overdose deaths and what drugs are showing up in different health zones province-wide.
However, the report is deemed confidential and not available to the general public.
The report, which does not contain any personal information, was provided by a source who feels it should be public information.
Drug policy analysts such as Matthew Herder, the director of Dalhousie University’s health law institute, say that confidentiality comes with increased risks to the public.
“It’s a problem because we need to know, obviously, what the supply looks like in the province and different communities, for safety reasons.”
“Without that information, we can’t have a more informed conversation about whether we should be doing more,” Herder added.
Acting provincial health minister, Leo Glavine, was asked why the report isn’t publicly available.
Glavine said that beyond potential “security purposes,” he wasn’t sure.
“I know this was the case, came up a few times, when I was previously minister but why we don’t have (the report) public, I can certainly check on that for you,” Glavine said during a provincial cabinet meeting held through a teleconference on Wednesday.
An interview request was made to the provincial health department to ask further questions about the report and why it isn’t available for public consumption. That interview request was declined.
The department instead provided a statement by email. It states that the report is compiled by the Department of Health and Wellness and uses data gathered from justice, health care, and community harm reduction.
The email adds that the report contains “sensitive information” and is an internal document.
The November report is four pages long and outlines which drugs are showing up in different communities.
For example, it states that crystal meth is showing up in Cumberland County and that fake Oxy 80s are circulating in Cape Breton.
It also details information around 436 substance-related responses by Emergency Health Services for the month of October.
According to the report, 24 of those calls involved cocaine and/or crack/cocaine, three were related to MDMA and one was related to methamphetamine.
Drug policy advocates feel this type of concise and easy-to-read information would help inform conversations, whether with families, or community support agencies, about how to stay as safe as possible when dealing with the illicit drug supply in their region.
“People who have been advocating for various harm-reduction-related services, new ideas like safe supply that other jurisdictions in Canada have signalled support for. The reason why we’re not making any progress on that front in Nova Scotia seems to be because ‘we’re not the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver,'” Herder said.
“Frankly, unless we have information like this, it’s hard to know what the facts really are. We need to have that information out there and then we can have a more respectful and meaningful conversation about what services are needed,” Herder said.
The email statement from a communications advisor with the health department states that the report is “meant to inform the department’s ongoing work — and the work of our partners — on drug use and related harms in Nova Scotia.”
It reads that the report isn’t available to the public because “there are risks of identifying individuals who are a part of a vulnerable group with this more granular information.”
Natasha Touesnard, a drug policy advocate and executive director CAPUD, argues that there are more risks associated with not keeping communities directly informed about what illicit drug risks are showing up in their region.
“Our province is lacking in drug checking, period. And, so until something like that comes into our province, this is a tool that could be very informative for people who use drugs across all socioeconomic demographics.”
“We need more safety mechanisms for people who use substances,” Touesnard adds.
NDP MLA Susan Leblanc feels that as long as personal information related to specific individuals isn’t included in the report, the province should consider releasing it publicly.
“That kind of information that’s in the report is essential for people in community, both people who use drugs but also people who work with people who use drugs — you know, pharmacists and folks at the needle exchanges and different services and organizations. All of that information is really important and people should have access to it,” Leblanc said.
The email statement from the health department lists a variety of websites where people can take the time to research information related to drugs and substances in Nova Scotia. The report in question is about four pages long and gives an overall snapshot of what’s impacting Nova Scotians.
Here are the websites the province recommends people look into if they want more information around substances and supports:
- http://www.novascotia.ca/opioid/ – This includes a monthly update on opioid-related deaths, naloxone kits distributed, and overdose reversals in N.S., as well as periodic updates on further metrics around the NS Opioid Use and Overdose Framework.
- https://data.novascotia.ca/Health-and-Wellness/Numbers-and-rates-of-substance-related-fatalities-/iu6y-z4n3 – This contains historic data on substance-related fatalities in Nova Scotia, by drug type, zone, and manner.
- https://health-infobase.canada.ca/substance-related-harms/opioids/maps?index=2448 – This includes deaths related to opioids, hospitalizations related to opioids, and EHS naloxone administrations by quarter and province.
- https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/health-concerns/controlled-substances-precursor-chemicals/drug-analysis-service/2020-analyzed-drug-report-q3.html. This includes main controlled substances identified in Health Canada Drug Analysis Service’s testing of suspected illegal drugs by law enforcement agencies, available by province.