Nanaimo authorities are urging drug users to take precautions after a spike in overdoses last week, including one suspected overdose death.
Island Health and the Nanaimo RCMP report an increase in overdoses, with four during the span of three days and one suspected overdose death Jan. 6, currently under investigation by the B.C. Coroners Service.
Another overdose death happened in late December.
There’s concern this city is seeing the same drug product as in Greater Victoria, where there have been eight recent overdose deaths.
Preliminary toxicology tests by the coroner service showed fatal overdoses in Victoria involved multiple drugs, like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and in one case, fentanyl.
Island Health and the Nanaimo RCMP are now urging caution and safe practice of illicit drug use, including avoiding using alone, knowing the drug by taking a small sample first and having a take-home Naloxone kit, an antidote to opioid overdoses.
“We know the severity of the situation that happened in the Greater Victoria area, that resulted in at least eight – probably more – tragic deaths, which are preventable,” said Dr. Paul Hasselback, medical health officer for central Vancouver Island.
“It would be good to be able to prevent deaths occurring here in central Island.”
Const. Gary O’Brien, spokesman for the Nanaimo RCMP, said there’s an anomaly in the drugs circulating in Nanaimo and urges “extreme caution” among users. If you think someone is overdosing, call 911 immediately, he said.
“We know drugs circulate throughout the community and every so often we’ll get these anomalies,” he said. “Unfortunately people are dying as a result of it.”
There is no quality control with drugs, which is why they are illegal, he said, adding that someone can think they are taking cocaine, but there’s crystal meth mixed in. The dosages can be off and people can easily die from it.
Police will be working to determine the source of the drugs and take what enforcement action they can.
There is no single solution to overdoses overall, according to Hasselback, who lists the need to prevent habitation and addiction to certain services, talk about safe environments where drugs are consumed and more follow up to detox services. He also sees the need to discuss policy.
People have talked about making laboratory testing more available, but when we say a product is illegal, testing can’t be undertaken for safety purposes, Hasselback said.
“We know that the current policies surrounding illicit drugs – they’re illegal – actually make it difficult to address the problem, so maybe we also need to be revisiting what our policies are,” he said.
When asked if he’s talking about legalization, he said he’s not sure he’d say that right now.
“I’m just saying we need to be willing to have the sorts of discussions that talk about how do we address these issues at a policy level,” Hasselback said.