The health authority that spans Vancouver Island has launched a new awareness campaign to help prevent overdose deaths, particularly in men who use drugs alone.
Island Health’s new campaign comes after a year where 263 people died from illicit drug toxicity. The health authority says that of the total people that died, 225 were men and 126 of them were in a private residence when they overdosed.
“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.”
According to the health authority, the campaign is aimed at men, primarily those employed in skilled trades and transport.
READ MORE: 2020 was B.C.’s deadliest year ever for illicit drug overdoes, coroner says
“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, Population Health & Chief Medical Health Officer. “We want them to know their lives matter — and there are supports and treatments to help keep them alive.”
Historical data from the BC Coroners Service (Illicit Drug Overdose Deaths in BC) shows that half of the men who died from toxic drugs were employed and of those, 55 per cent worked in the trades and transport industry.
“People who use drugs and live with addictions may hide their drug use to avoid judgement and discrimination,” reads a statement from Island Health. “Using alone is the result, and it puts them at higher risk of death from an accidental overdose. If an individual is alone when they overdose, their ability to seek medical help diminishes greatly.”
Island Health points to existing resources as 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 (1-888-688 NORS ).
There are also supervised consumption sites operated by Island Health in communities across the region.
The overdose awareness campaign will span eight weeks and Island Health says it intends to conduct outreach through social media, radio and streaming messages, and display ads in transit shelters.
Island Health adds that its web page will provide available resources, including locations for Overdose Prevention and Supervised Consumption Services.
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 the province has deepened amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with an average of five lives being lost to illicit drug toxicity every day.