Island Health warns of spike in Port Alberni's opiod overdoses

Shayne Morrow, April 9, 2018

The use of Naloxone, pictured on display at the Port Alberni Overdose Prevention Site, is being promoted in the community as a leading measure to prevent more deaths from drug use. (Denise Titian photo)

Port Alberni — 

Island Health has issued an Overdose Advisory for the Port Alberni area.

The April 6 media release, in poster form, does not provide specific numbers, but the message is clear:

“There has been a spike in overdoses in Port Alberni from heroin use, both injection and smoking!”

The instructions for those witnessing an opiod overdose are equally simple and clear: Call 9-1-1 immediately and provide rescue breathing and administer Naloxone “if you have it.”

While no overdose deaths have been reported in Port Alberni in recent days, a number of medical emergencies have occurred. BC Coroner’s Service spokesman Andy Watson said the recent crisis has been the result of the widespread introduction of fentanyl into the street “heroin” market. Last year, the province logged 999 overdose deaths involving fentanyl between New Years Day and Halloween – that is 83 per cent of all street drug deaths in the province during that nine-month period.

“It shows the toxicity of the supply,” Watson said, adding that he is encouraged by the community response to the crisis.

On Dec. 21, the NTC conducted a Naloxone workshop at the Tseshaht Hall. Members heard from RCMP Aboriginal Policing Officer Scott MacLeod, who presented a short video, Naloxone Saves Lives. Attendees also learned how to save a life by using a Naloxone kit, and got to take one home for any emergency. Previously, on Dec. 8, Hupacasath First Nation hosted a similar workshop at the Hupacasath Youth Centre.

Because of the seriousness of the overdose situation, police and health officials are not pushing the anti-drug message. There is an acceptance that a certain number of people will consume opioids, despite the well-publicized overdose crisis. The goal is to reduce the death rate and the number of medical emergencies tying up the health care system.

Strategies for safer use include:

  • if you have just purchased drugs, try a small amount first
  • avoid using alone; use with a friend

And most critically, learn how to use a Naloxone kit and keep it handy. Have an overdose response plan in hand.

In December 2016, Island Health created its overdose prevention and supervised consumption services (OPS/SCS), and has overseen the opening of nine supervised injection sites on the Island (four in Victoria). The Port Alberni site opened in May 2017. According to Island Health, these sites have logged over 100,000 visits, with 820 overdose reversals and most critically, zero deaths.

The Port Alberni site is located at 3699 Third Avenue and is open from 8 am to 4 pm.