As the overdose public health emergency continues to claim lives throughout British Columbia, Fraser Health is reminding people who use substances that smoking toxic substances carries the same risk of overdose as injecting them.
The unpredictable nature of the highly toxic drug supply means all forms of ingesting substances come with a heightened risk of overdose.
To further spread this important message among people who use substances, Fraser Health has launched a new advertising campaign on social media and in transit locations throughout the region to raise awareness and point people to supportive resources, such as prevention, recognizing and responding to an overdose, as well as how to access drug checking services.
“Our government continues to confront this emergency from every angle, making the large, systemic changes necessary to turn the tide on this crisis,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “We have rapidly scaled up the number of overdose prevention services from one site to 42, including 13 sites offering inhalation services. Fraser Health’s information campaign is a critical part of our work to ensure people are aware of the risks associated with substance use, and the measures they can take to protect themselves and others.”
Fraser Health data shows smoking was the mode of consumption for 50 per cent of the 45,968 visits to overdose prevention and consumption sites between January and September 2022 – up from 35 per cent for the same period in 2021.
“We know there is a perception that smoking may be less risky than injecting substances – primarily opioids – but that is not the case,” says Dr. Maulik Baxi, medical health officer, Fraser Health. “We’re seeing a trend toward more people smoking rather than injecting substances as the number of overdose deaths tragically continues to rise.”
The trend towards smoking rather than injecting substances is reflected in the BC Coroners Service Death Review Panel report, which shows that 44 per cent of people who died of a toxic drug poisoning in B.C. in 2021 had smoked substances, compared with 36 per cent in 2017.
To support people in making informed decisions about their substance use, Fraser Health is encouraging people who use substances to get their drugs checked and not use alone. Naloxone continues to be an effective medication for reversing overdose, regardless of whether someone has used substances via inhalation/smoking, or injection route.
Three portable Fourier-Transform Infrared Spectrometer (FTIR) machines are in use at supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites in the region. FTIR testing can detect the chemical makeup of many substances, including opioids, stimulants and other psychoactive drugs.
Between April and June 2022, 94 per cent of opioid samples checked in the Fraser Health region tested positive for fentanyl and 48 per cent contained benzodiazepines as well.
For more information, please visit fraserhealth.ca/overdose.
For information on the Toxic Drug and Health Alerts service, along with resources, visit Toward the Heart.
Overdose alerts, prevention and response, Lifeguard App
Signs of an overdose (Punjabi-language video)