Island Health targets men employed in skilled trades with overdose awareness campaign

Sheila Malcolmson, minister of mental health and addictions announces that B.C. will officially request a federal exemption from Health Canada to decriminalize personal possession of drugs in the province. || B.C. government photo
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Island Health has launched an awareness campaign specifically for men who use drugs to help prevent overdose death.

“People use drugs for many, complex reasons and often even the people closest to those who’ve overdosed didn’t know they were using,” said Sheila Malcolmson, minister of mental health and addictions. “That’s why breaking down stigma about who uses drugs is so important. Let’s have open conversations that encourage people to break the silence and reach out for help.”

Last year in the health region, 263 people died from illicit drug toxicity. Of those, 225 were men and 126 of them were in a private residence when they overdosed, according to Island Health.

The campaign is aimed primarily at men employed in skilled trades and transport. Historical data from the BC Coroners Service shows half of the men who died from toxic drugs were employed and of those, 55 per cent worked in the trades and transport industry.

Throughout the eight week campaign, outreach will be through social media, radio and streaming messages and display ads in transit shelters. Island Health’s web page will provide available resources, including locations for overdose prevention and supervised consumption services.

“We know that among those who die from toxic drug poisoning, men who use alone are at greatest risk,” said Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health’s vice president and chief medical health officer. “We want them to know their lives matter and there are supports and treatments to help keep them alive.”

There have been over 7,000 overdose deaths in B.C. since 2016, surpassing annual deaths from car crashes, suicides and homicides combined and leading to a decline in life expectancy at birth in B.C. The drug poisoning crisis in B.C. is deepening alongside the COVID-19 pandemic, with an average of five lives being lost to illicit drug toxicity every day.

People who use drugs and live with addictions may hide their drug use to avoid judgement and discrimination, Island Health said. Using alone is the result and it puts them at higher risk of death from accidental overdose. If an individual is alone when they overdose, their ability to seek medical help diminishes greatly.

Island Health said there are alternatives to using alone — such as using in the presence of someone who can administer naloxone or call for help if needed, testing drugs and using a small amount to start, or accessing online resources such as the Lifeguard App or the National Overdose Response Service overdose prevention hotline. Island Health also operates supervised consumption and overdose prevention services in many communities in the region. 

British Columbia has been the epicentre of the overdose epidemic in Canada, experiencing a fivefold increase in illicit drug toxicity deaths between 2010 and 2020. 

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