B.C.’s Southern Interior launches text alerts of toxic drugs

Paramedics have given substantially more doses of Narcan, an opioid overdose reversal drug, over the last three years. Global News file photo

An alert system aimed at reducing the number of casualties from the ongoing toxic drug supply was launched by Interior Health this week.

“Across the province, in every community, we continue to see tragic deaths due to the toxic drug supply,” Minister of Mental Health and Addiction Sheila Malcolmson said in a press release.

“The new alert system is an example of innovation and community collaboration to save lives in this crisis.”

Click to play video: 'Number of overdose deaths continue to grow in the Okanagan'
Number of overdose deaths continue to grow in the Okanagan

The Toxic Drug Alerts system uses text messaging to send alerts to prevent drug poisonings and deaths, and to provide timely information and resources to people who use drugs and community members.

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People who use drugs, those who support them, and community members are encouraged to opt-in for toxic drug alerts by sending the keyword JOIN to ALERTS (253787).

Read more: ‘We are literally seeing people die before our eyes’: Toxic drugs continue to take toll on Okanagan

They will receive toxic drug and drug poisoning alerts and, in the future, public health alerts, such as COVID-19 related information.

To help keep communities safe, subscribers can anonymously submit information relating to toxic drugs or drug poisonings via text using the keyword OD.

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Penticton groups to recognize six-years since overdose public health emergency declaration

The health authority said drug alerts play an important role in empowering people who use drugs to do so more safely.

“I have been so glad that I have been getting the drug alerts in my area and surrounding areas because anything that is in the surrounding areas is going to make it here eventually,” said one person with lived experience who was involved in developing the new system.

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“I used this information to prepare myself for any toxic drugs that could be coming our way by doing smaller testers, trying to get samples into the drug testers, asking my peers what they think and informing my peers of the drug alerts. It helped a lot when there were photos in colour. The description was also helpful.”

Interior Health is the first health authority to launch the new system developed by the BC Centre for Disease Control and the Office of Virtual Health at the Provincial Health Services Authority in partnership with regional health authorities. The alert system is expected to expand to additional health authorities summer of 2022.

A program called RADAR has been managed as a research project in Vancouver Coastal Health since 2015. It has demonstrated the success of a text message-based drug and overdose alerting system.

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