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13 Jul 2017

Overdose warning system aims to alert users about potentially deadly drugs

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

 

VANCOUVER -- Medical health officers in the Vancouver area are aiming to quickly warn drug users about clusters of overdoses and batches of contaminated drugs based on reports from people who use illegal substances.

Sara Young, the regional leader of mental health and substance use for Vancouver Coastal Health, said the data would help staff decide what action needs to be taken to prevent fatal overdoses in the midst of an opioid overdose crisis.

The pilot project started Tuesday with an online web form and a texting service that can be used by people who have registered to receive alerts, said Young, who worked with substance users to create the alert process.

"We talked to people who are currently using substances and the feedback that we got was that we really needed to make this a simple system that could be used with a flip phone."

Young said service providers who may witness an overdose and call 911 could also report information including the date it occurred, the town or neighbourhood where a substance was bought, and its physical description.

Participants can also upload a photo of the drug and its packaging and do not need to provide their names as part of the project called Real-time Drug Alert and Response, or RADAR.

Currently, information about overdoses is analyzed from multiple sources including emergency departments, overdose prevention sites and Insite, a supervised injection site in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

"But that process can be slow and take a number of days," Young said. "If we can get information from people about what a specific batch looked like or what packaging it was contained in then we can quickly send alerts to the people who signed up to the system and say, 'Hey, watch out for this particular batch.' "

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