A new toxic drug alert text service has expanded to Island Health. The new service, available on Vancouver Island, sends out warnings by text of toxic drug advisories in your city.
Launched by Toward the Heart, a British Columbia Centre for Disease Control program, and Island Health in 2022, the drug-poisoning overdose advisory became available for Vancouver Islanders by text message in December 2022.
“These advisories share information about increases in toxic drug poisonings in Island Health communities and provide tips for safer drug use,” stated Island Health. “To sign up for the free service, text JOIN to 253787.”
According to Island Health, drug poisoning advisories can be prompted by several factors, including an unusual increase coming to emergency departments, a rise in ambulance calls for suspected overdoses, as well as anecdotal information from community partners, such as observations from frontline workers at safe consumption sites.
When there is an increase in these factors in a particular area, a text alert is sent out to subscribers warning them of the danger of the high risk of drug-poisoning.
According to the Toward the Heart website, toxic drug and health alerts are a free, real-time text messaging service for anyone to receive and share information in their community. This service is anonymous.
As of February 26, 2023, there were 1,673 active subscribers within the Island Health region.
The Toward the Heart website provides a wealth of information and services available to British Columbians. There is information about how to recognize an overdose and how to help someone who might be overdosing.
Users of the site can find out where access free and confidential drug checking services. This service is available at most Vancouver Island safe consumption sites in Victoria, Duncan, Nanaimo, Campbell River, Comox and Port Alberni. Some sites may have BTNX fentanyl testing strips that can be used on site or taken elsewhere to check drugs.
Introduced in 2020, the Lifeguard App can be downloaded to mobile devices for free. It can directly link people to emergency responders if an overdose does occur.
The user enters their name then allows the app to track their address, then selects the drug being used from a list. Before ingesting the drug, the user launches the app. The app starts a 50-second timer.
“If the user doesn’t hit a button to stop the alarm, indicating they are fine, the alarm grows louder. After 75 seconds a text-to-voice call will go straight to 9-1-1, alerting emergency medical dispatchers of a potential overdose,” according to the Provincial Health Services Authority.
The timer can be extended for up to five minutes by the user, if they feel they need more time. Identifying information collected by the app is only used if it appears that the user needs emergency health services.
Island Health notes that the ongoing toxic drug-poisoning crisis is a complex public health emergency that requires multiple approaches.
“There is no one solution and we are adapting our response on an ongoing basis to create and implement more tools to try and reduce the harm for people who use substances,” Island Health said in an email to Ha-Shilth-Sa. “The text alert system is one more tool to make people aware that toxic drugs are circulating in their region or community.”
People can get other information by text message, like where to find naloxone or how to get drugs tested. They can also report bad drugs by filling out an overdose survey at https://vchhealthsurvey.phsa.ca/Overdose.survey. The information helps public health authorities track toxic drugs, allowing them to issue warnings.
Go to https://towardtheheart.com/alerts for important information about staying safe. Use this page for the latest on signing up for the Toxic Drug and Public Health Alerts, as well as accessing overdose prevention and drug checking services in BC.