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New Fraser Health text alerts to help flag toxic drugs in circulation

The regional authority is launching the program with the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC).
With the launch of a new text message-based alert system, people in the Fraser Health region now have access to more information about toxic drugs circulating in the community.

The launch of a new text message-based system is set to alert those living in the Fraser Health region of any toxic drugs potentially circulating in their community. 

Text notifications can be now sent to local subscribers who want timely information about illicit substances and increases in toxic drug poisonings in their region.

Interested residents with a cell phone can text "JOIN" to 253787 to subscribe to the Toxic Drug and Health Alerts System.

Managed by the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), it's rolling out across the province to help prevent toxic drug poisonings and overdose deaths.

"So many lives have been lost to the toxic drug emergency in Fraser Health and across B.C.,” says Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions in a news release.

"The Toxic Drug and Health Alerts System is one more tool that can save lives, along with the treatment beds, prevention, and harm reduction actions we are expanding with urgency."

Fraser Health adds the system is anonymous and free, though standard message and data rates may apply.

Subscribers can also anonymously submit information, including the date and location of drug overdose, a physical description of the drug and packaging, where the substance was purchased, and what it is believed to be.

Community members — including those who use substances — are encouraged to submit information by texting "OD" to 253787.

Once received, the information is reviewed by harm reduction teams and used in conjunction with other sources to send text message alerts to subscribers. People who use drugs, community partners, emergency departments, first responders, drug user groups, and the BC Coroners Service all help inform alerts.

This new system is an additional layer to Fraser Health’s existing email notification system that shares information about specific illicit substances in circulation or sudden increases in toxic drug poisonings in our region.

“The toxicity and unpredictability of the unregulated supply is driving drug poisoning deaths,” says Dr. Alexis Crabtree, public health physician, substance use and harm reduction with the Public Health Response team.

"Ultimately, we need a regulated drug supply to reduce deaths. It’s also important that, right now, we give people the best information we can about the unregulated supply. The text-based alert system is one way people can quickly receive information and alert others in their communities about particularly dangerous substances."

The system was developed by the BCCDC and the Office of Virtual Health at the Provincial Health Services Authority in partnership with regional health authorities.

“As we grieve the lives that have been lost to the public health overdose emergency, it is critical that we look at new and timely ways of sharing information, gathered from people in our community who are witnessing the drug poisoning crisis firsthand,” says Dr. Victoria Lee, president and CEO, 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.”

Fraser Health is further supporting people to make informed decisions with the expansion of drug-checking services. 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 tested positive for fentanyl and 48 per cent contained benzodiazepines as well.

Illicit drug toxicity is the leading cause of unnatural death in British Columbia and is second only to cancers in terms of years of life lost. At least 10,326 British Columbians, including 4,046 in Fraser Health, have lost their lives to the illicit drug supply since the public health emergency was first declared in April 2016.