News / Vancouver

Health authority rolls out warning system that aims to prevent overdoses

The 8-month pilot program crowd sources information from drug users and relay it to their peers

A woman, left, prepares to inject herself with an unknown substance as a man sits in a wheelchair outside Insite, the supervised consumption site, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver on February 21, 2017.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

A woman, left, prepares to inject herself with an unknown substance as a man sits in a wheelchair outside Insite, the supervised consumption site, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver on February 21, 2017.

Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) is rolling out an alert warning system that aims to bring drug overdose and contamination information to drug users faster.

The eight-month pilot program will crowd source information from the drug-users and relay it to their peers via harm reduction service providers in the community.

Health providers currently post warnings whenever authorities receive word from police about a particularly dangerous batch of drugs or when service providers notice a spike in overdoses, but that information often comes a week or two after the fact, said Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, medial health officer at VCH.

“These formal systems collect information in very formal ways and it’s to serve their needs as oppose to the needs of the people who might be able to use that information,” he said.

“[Drug users] may have different information to share with us that may be more relevant in some cases."

People can contribute information anonymously to the Real-time Drug Alert & Response (RADAR) program online at www.vch.ca/overdose or by texting (236)-999-3673.

Drug users can report the date of an overdose and what neighbourhood the substance was purchased in. They can even submit photos of the pills in question to help their peers identify contaminated drugs, for example.

“We can quickly get that picture out to people and say be careful of pills that look like this,” explained Lysyshyn.

The new alert program is one of several incentives Vancouver Coastal Health is spearheading in an effort to address the overdose crisis in B.C. that has killed 640 people in the province so far in 2017.

The health authority plans to expand its fentanyl-testing strip program from Insite to five overdose-prevention sites, said Lysyshyn.

“We hope that will increase access to the strips and we want to start looking at other drug checking technologies as well.”

Over 1,000 tests have been conducted at Insite since VCH launched the program one year ago, he said. Staff found that people are more likely to use reduce their dosage when the test comes back positive, reducing the chance of overdose.

The strip, in its current form, only detects the presence of fentanyl.

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