Island Health has launched a campaign targeting men to raise awareness of services available to help people stay safer when using drugs and prevent overdoses caused by the toxic illicit drug supply.
The toxic drug crisis claimed the lives of 327 Island Health residents last year, according to the health authority. The majority of deaths were men aged 30-59 years. Island Health said, in a media release, it works with partners to promote harm reduction services that “meet people where they’re at.”
“Men who use alone continue to be at the greatest risk from toxic drug poisonings. These are our fathers, brothers, sons and friends,” said Dr. Sandra Allison, a medical health officer at Island Health. “We want them to know that there are services available that can help them stay safer, stay alive and connect them with whatever support they may need.”
Most drug poisoning deaths occur in private residences, according to Island Health. People use drugs alone for a variety of reasons, including privacy and avoiding stigma. Using alone puts people at a higher risk of death from accidental overdose since their ability to seek help diminishes greatly.
“There are ways for people to stay safer when they use drugs. This includes consuming in the presence of someone who can administer naloxone or call for help if needed, testing drugs first and using a small amount to start,” the release reads.
People using substances alone can take advantage of free and confidential options that connect them to support and response services including the Lifeguard app, Brave app and National Overdose Response Service hotline (1-888-688-6677).
Many communities also have overdose prevention or supervised consumption sites where people can use in the presence of a qualified responder if an overdose occurs — no drug-poisoning deaths have been reported at these sites, according to Island Health.
Since the public health emergency was declared in 2016, over 9,200 British Columbians have lost their lives to drug poisonings (as of January 2022). This number represents more deaths than those associated with car crashes, suicides and homicides combined, according to Island Health. Drug poisoning deaths are the leading cause of unnatural death in the province and have contributed to a decrease in life expectancy.
Island Health’s four-week campaign will be featured on the radio, social media, digital channels and display ads in bus shelters.