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New text alert service aims to prevent drug poisonings and deaths

Development of the new text alert service is driven by an increase in deaths due to the toxic illicit drug supply in B.C.
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People in Interior Health now have access to a text-based service for toxic drug and health alerts. The service will use clinical digital messaging (text messaging) to send alerts aimed to prevent drug poisonings, deaths, and provide public health information to people who use drugs (PWUD), as well as community members.

The initiative is thanks to several months of collaboration by the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) Harm Reduction Services, the Office of Virtual Health (OVH), several health authorities, and peer groups with lived and living experience. 

The alerts service is intended to be province-wide, beginning in the Interior Health region and gradually expanding to additional health authorities in other regions of the province. 

The Toxic Drug and Health Alerts project team, comprised of employees from BCCDC and the Office of Virtual Health

Why have text alerts?

The need for a text-based health alerting system that is available across all health authorities is driven by an increase in deaths due to the toxic illicit drug supply in B.C and lack of access to a safer supply. 

“The priority is to get people access to safe supply, but while we’re waiting, toxic drug alerts will be really helpful in letting us know what is going around in our communities, and can help people make harm reduction decisions for themselves,” said Sara Young, manager of Harm Reduction at BCCDC.

Preliminary data released by the BC Coroners Service revealed that the toxic drug supply has claimed the lives of 9,410 British Columbians since January 2016, and that at least 174 lives were lost in the month of February 2022.

How the text alerts service works

PWUD and community members can text JOIN to 253787 to receive toxic drug and public health alerts for select regions. Subscribers can then 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 and public health alerts to subscribers.

Sample image of a text alert

Similar projects have had success in alerting about drug toxicity in North American communities:

  • A SMS-based program in Vancouver has demonstrated the success of a text message-based drug and overdose alerting system
  • A SMS-based program in Baltimore called Bad Batch Alert has demonstrated the utility of providing additional information on public health and harm reduction services to people who use drugs.
  • Toronto web-based harm reduction program.
How will we get the word out?

The Harm Reduction Team at BCCDC has created public-facing promotional materials for the Toxic Drug and Health Alerts initiative. These include posters and wallet cards that will be distributed by community and organizational partners in registered harm reduction sites, overdose prevention sites, community organizations, and health centres. 

Sample wallet card (front and back)

For more information on the Toxic Drug and Health Alerts service, along with the resources, visit the Toward the Heart (BCCDC Harm Reduction) website.

BC Centre for Disease Control; Health alert; overdose awareness; Office of Virtual Health; Substance use; virtual health
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