Port Alberni has seen an increase in overdoses from heroin use this week—enough that the Island Health Authority has issued an overdose advisory for the community.
“There has been a spike in overdoses in Port Alberni from heroin use, both injection and smoking,” the advisory notes.
A spokesperson with BC Emergency Health Services said between April 4 and April 5 “we had less than five potential overdoses or poisonings.” The agency is not permitted to give out numbers smaller than five due to privacy concerns, the spokesperson noted.
The advisory comes on the heels of the latest provincial overdose death statistics released by the BC Coroners Service.
The report credits the formation of overdose prevention sites and overdose programs as part of the reason overdose deaths have slowed down in the past year.
Port Alberni’s overdose prevention site opened in May 2017 and is one of nine such sites on Vancouver Island. Last December Port Alberni’s site was one of a few to receive fentanyl testing strips. People concerned about what they are consuming can bring their substances to the overdose prevention site and a worker trained in using the test strips will be able to assist them. Testing must take place at the site.
“We’re not going to be handing out strips to people within the community to test their own drugs,” said Wes Hewitt, executive director of the Port Alberni Shelter Society, which oversees management of the site.
“It’s one more tool in one’s toolbox,” Hewitt said in December. “Will it help? Probably. If it’s used properly it can aid.
“Anything we can do to prevent deaths in the community, whether it’s an old person, a young person, anybody—it’s a positive step,” he said.
“Substance use has been around forever. We’re in a situation now where it’s killing more people than suicide or car crashes and we’ve got to address it. We’re trying to prevent unnecessary deaths and we’re trying to save taxpayers money in healthcare and policing costs.”
Island Health cautions drug users to call 911 right away if someone overdoses, provide rescue breathing and administer Naloxone if it’s available. Other strategies for safe drug use include trying a small amount of new drugs first, avoid using alone, and staggering use with friends “so someone can respond if needed,” the VIHA advisory notes.
Port Alberni’s overdose prevention site is located at 3699 Third Ave. and Bute Street and is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.