An internal government report that isn’t available to Nova Scotians due to provincial ‘privacy concerns’ outlines information including an increase in overdose deaths between January and November 2020, compared to 2019.
“Preliminary data suggests an increase in drug toxicity deaths compared to last year (Jan-Nov period), however the number for the time period was not out of keeping with previous years and the situation will continue to be monitored for action,” Marla MacInnis, a media relations adviser with the Nova Scotia government, wrote in an email.
The internal report is titled NS Drug Report – Drugs and Substances, and is published on a monthly basis by the health department.
However, the department doesn’t share the detailed and concise report publicly.
“This particular report is an internal document as its content risks identifying individuals who are part of a vulnerable group,” MacInnis wrote.
Drug policy advocates have long argued that releasing information to communities about what specific harms are showing up in their illicit drug supply would help save lives.
Or at the very least, it would keep people as safe as possible when it comes to using drugs by equipping them with timely information, they argue.
“We need to inform people of what’s going on, certainly. What’s lost in the numbers, just people dying, is that we estimate that for every person who dies of an overdose there’s 20 others who overdose and don’t die,” said Dr. Mark Tyndall, a professor at the University of British Columbia with expertise in public health.
The internal report compiled with information from community-based organizations and police agencies outlines in-depth information about concerning substances appearing in specific communities.
This is a blurb from the December 2020 report related to the Halifax Regional Municipality:
“We received a report from a community partner that a substance being sold in the Halifax Municipality area as cocaine may have been contaminated with an unknown opioid.”
Between January and November 2019, 86 people died from confirmed or probable acute drug toxicity deaths. While the data in the December 2020 report is still provisional because deaths are still being investigated, the forecasted number sits at 96 OD deaths.
Tyndall says this information backs ongoing calls for safe supply.
“You know it really gets down to our obligation to offer people an alternative. Especially, when we know there’s very deadly drugs circulating on the street,” he said.
While the internal report does contain regular updates from police agencies, the Nova Scotia RCMP and other police agencies occasionally alert the Nova Scotia Health Authority to concerning substances.
For example, a recent sample of illicit Xanax processed at the National Drug Analysis Service laboratory prompted an alert shared over social media.
“The report was about flualprazolam which is a benzodiazepine but it is much more stronger,” Sara Wuite said, the acting manager of NS Health workforce planning and mobilization.
Wuite says it’s important to note that Naloxone isn’t effective at temporarily reversing an overdose when it involves a benzodiazepine. She adds that a benzodiazepine overdose can appear similar to that of an opioid overdose. Which is why she says it’s important to call 911 for emergency health support.
MacInnis says there are several different website available to the public if they wish to further research drugs and substances in Nova Scotia.
They are as follows:
- http://www.novascotia.ca/opioid/-This includes a monthly update on opioid-related deaths, naloxone kits distributed, and overdose reversals in NS, 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.
- https://twitter.com/healthns – Drug alerts are posted to Nova Scotia Health Authority’s Twitter.