Island Health has launched an awareness campaign for men who use drugs to help prevent overdose deaths and support men to break the silence about their drug use.
“People use drugs for many, complex reasons, and often even the people closest to those who’ve overdosed didn’t know they were using,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “That’s why breaking down stigma about who uses drugs is so important. Let’s have open conversations that encourage people to break the silence and reach out for help.”
Last year in the Island Health region, 263 people died from illicit drug toxicity. Of those people, 225 were men - and 126 of them were in a private residence when they overdosed.
“We know that among those who die from toxic drug poisoning, men who use alone are at greatest risk,” said Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health’s Vice President, Population Health & Chief Medical Health Officer. “We want them to know their lives matter - and there are supports and treatments to help keep them alive.”
The campaign is aimed at men, primarily those employed in skilled trades and transport. Historical data from the BC Coroners Service (Illicit Drug Overdose Deaths in BC) shows that half of the men who died from toxic drugs were employed and of those, 55% worked in the trades and transport industry.
People who use drugs and live with addictions may hide their drug use to avoid judgement and discrimination. Using alone is the result, and it puts them at higher risk of death from accidental overdose. If an individual is alone when they overdose, their ability to seek medical help diminishes greatly.
There are alternatives to using alone – such as using in the presence of someone who can administer naloxone or call for help if needed, testing drugs and using a small amount to start, or accessing online resources such as the Lifeguard App or the National Overdose Response Service overdose prevention hotline (1-888-688 NORS ). Island Health also operates supervised consumption or overdose prevention services in many communities in the region.
British Columbia has been the epicentre of the overdose epidemic in Canada, experiencing a fivefold increase in illicit drug toxicity deaths between 2010 and 2020. There have been over 7,000 overdose deaths in B.C. since 2016, surpassing annual deaths from car crashes, suicides, and homicides combined and leading to a decline in life expectancy at birth in B.C. The drug poisoning crisis in B.C. is deepening alongside the COVID-19 pandemic, with an average of five lives being lost to illicit drug toxicity every day.