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Milestone anniversary for toxic drug health alerts

This text-based alert service has been well received since its launch in May 2022, with over 6,000 subscribers. Learn how it enables users to take precautions and avoid potentially harmful substances.
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​Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA), along with Interior Health, Fraser Health, Island Health, Northern Health and Vancouver Coastal Health, are marking the first anniversary of the Toxic Drug and Health Alerts service this May. 

The text-based service, developed by the BC Center for Disease Control and the Office of Virtual Health at PHSA, is intended to prevent drug poisonings, deaths, and provide public health information to people who use drugs, as well as community members.

“Drug poisonings, or overdoses, happen because the unregulated drug supply contains unpredictable amounts of fentanyl, benzodiazepines, and other substances. The text-based alert system allows harm reduction teams to quickly share information about substances that are leading to poisonings with people who use substances in their communities,” said Dr. Alexis Crabtree, Public Health Physician, Substance Use & Harm Reduction at BC Centre for Disease Control.

Example of a text alert received on a smartphone.

Anyone in British Columbia can text JOIN to 253787 to anonymously receive toxic drug and health alerts for their health region. Subscribers can also anonymously submit information about toxic substances by text. Using information from community members and other trusted sources, harm reduction teams will send region-specific or provincial toxic drug alerts to subscribers letting them know about toxic substances of particular concern in their area.

The Toxic Drug and Health Alerts service launched in the Interior Health region in May 2022. In the ensuing 12 months, the remaining regional health authorities adopted the service. Currently, over 6,000 people are subscribed to the service and 88 text alerts have been issued since the launch.
sign up for toxic drug alerts text JOIN to 253787
The alert service has been well received since its launch, allowing users to take precautions and avoid potentially harmful substances. Subscribers completed a recent survey about their experience signing up and receiving alerts. 

Overall, the feedback was positive, with 95 per cent of respondents agreeing that they “found value in the service and would recommend the use of Toxic Drug & Health Alerts to others.”

The initiative has been successful in part due to the many partners across BC:

Interior Health

“Timely and targeted information regarding the current drug supply is vital when we are seeing the toxicity of illicit drugs increase at an alarming rate. Alerts will help people make better informed decisions and ultimately help reduce harms, including overdose and death, from poisoned drugs.” - Jessica Bridgeman, sexual health and harm reduction manager

Fraser Health

“The Toxic Drug and Health Alerts System is one piece of the integrated, wraparound approach we are taking to empower people who use substances to lead safer lives.” - Dr. Victoria Lee, president and CEO

Northern Health

“The ability to incorporate the firsthand and witnessed knowledge of peers and partners, first responders and system subscribers is key to ensuring alerts are timely, and informative.” - Dr. Jong Kim, Chief Medical Health Officer

Island Health

“This initiative lets us share important information about drug poisonings quickly with communities across Vancouver Island.” - Keva Glynn, executive lead, Mental Health and Substance Use. 

Vancouver Coastal Health

“(Sharing this information) plays a central role in public health surveillance, reminding people to avoid using alone where possible and to access local harm reduction services. Taking these steps can significantly reduce the risk of experiencing a fatal toxic drug overdose.” - Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, Deputy Chief Medical Health Officer.

People with Lived & Living Experience

"Until more effective measures are introduced to address the reliance on the illegal supply of non-medical drugs, the text alerts have been helpful and we are looking forward to this service expanding in the way it collects and disseminates helpful information of what is in our current supply." - Members of PEEP, a provincial peer advisory group.
For more information on the Toxic Drug and Health Alerts service, along with the sign-up resources, visit the Toward the Heart (BCCDC Harm Reduction) website.

SOURCE: Milestone anniversary for toxic drug health alerts ( )
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