‘Unknown substance’ causes overdose deaths in Nova Scotia

Sep 3, 2021

Earlier in July, Nova Scotia Health released an alert on social media notifying the public that a life-threatening substance has been circulating in the local drug supply.

In his interview with CBC News, Matt Bonn, the program coordinator for the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs, and the co-founder of HaliFIX Overdose Prevention Society, revealed that he received an email from Nova Scotia Health stating there is an “unknown substance” that has been circulating in the Halifax region. According to Bonn, the email said that the drug may be sold on squares of blotter paper and has led to “a number of overdoses,” as well as two deaths between July 4-15.

Although the information about the appearance of a dangerous new drug was released to the public on social media by Nova Scotia Health on July 15, it is not displayed on the health authority’s website. Furthermore, Bonn said that usually, drug advisories are highly detailed documents containing the name of the substance and photos. However, the advisory he received and the one released on social media contained minimal information.

Bonn said he receives drug advisories because he is on Nova Scotia’s drug harms alert distribution list, which is a list of community-based organizations and health services that provide front-line services to people who use drugs.

According to CBC News, a health authority spokesperson stated that there was no further information available about the alert sent out.

CBC News also contacted Halifax Regional Police about the two deaths mentioned in the alert released by the health authority, however, the police said in an email they have “no updates on the sudden death,” and “have not seized any substance as described in the Nova Scotia Health alert.”

In addition, Bonn said that creating a drug testing site and encouraging people who use drugs to carry naloxone, a medication that can be injected to block the effects of opioids, can be effective strategies to reduce the risk of overdose. Naloxone is available at no cost at many pharmacies across the province, as part of the take-home program that began in 2017.

Although drug testing kits can be purchased online, they can be expensive. Bonn said fentanyl test strips can also be purchased with government funds, but this type of test doesn’t give enough information about what may be in a certain drug.

Moreover, according to Bonn, there is an urgent need to create a Halifax drug testing site with a full mass spectrometer system, such as the one used by the Vancouver-based organization Get Your Drugs Tested.

“I think any time there’s alternative harm-reduction measures implemented it reduces the chances of overdose deaths,” he said. “We do have a safe consumption site, and I think that would be the perfect place to test drugs,” Bonn said.