Nova Scotia launches new drug alert program to reduce incidence of overdose

Feb 4, 2021

In response to increasing incidence of opioid use and overdoses in Nova Scotia, its provincial health authority has launched the new Drug Harms Alert program aimed to disseminate information regarding unexpected drug use-related harms across communities in the province.

According to the Nova Scotia health authority, the program was “designed to establish a flexible, low-barrier, community-driven process for communicating unexpected drug use-related harms observed in the community.”

Through the New Harms Alert program, Nova Scotia Health receives reports of tainted drugs from law enforcement or community organizations. Subsequently, they send out email alerts to harm-reduction groups across the province, which can then disseminate this important information to their communities through outreach and social media. Specifically, the relevant notifications are sent through Nova Scotia Health’s Twitter account and are then emailed to community partners, such as POSSE and Ally Centre of Cape Breton.

In her interview with CBC News, Kimm Kent, founder of the outreach program POSSE based in Nova Scotia said that the New Harms Alert program is “a brilliant idea.” “It’s another tool of a harm-reduction strategy to inform people of tainted substances and allow people then to proceed with caution then if they decide to use substances that they know are moving through their community,” she added.

The provincial health authority and other advocates have been raising concerns about recent warnings related to illicit street drugs made to look like prescription medications in Nova Scotia.

The community partners also inform Nova Scotia Health of illicit substances they have found on the streets, such as in the December notification released by Nova Scotia Health regarding fentanyl in methadone pills sold illicitly in Glace Bay and New Waterford. “This (system) arose originally from the community partners we work with,” Sara Wuite from Nova Scotia Health said in a statement. “The purpose of these alerts is that, when people are acquiring these drugs it is hard for them to know what exactly is in them. This alternatively allows for information about (contaminated drugs) to be distributed across the province in a quick and timely manner.”

Earlier in January, Nova Scotia Health issued a warning regarding a white substance labelled as Xanax from Windsor, which had tested positive for flualprazolam, a benzodiazepine similar to Xanax, which is much more potent. “It’s way more potent and hits way faster, and causes memory lapse quicker and can be really fatal when mixed with other substances,” said Kent. “So I’m very concerned because it’s also really cheap and marketed largely towards youth.”

Before the new alert system, community organizations disseminated warnings of tainted drugs by posting signs in their facilities and reaching out to other community partners, such as food banks and housing shelters.

“This will be a very useful alerts system. It goes out to everyone, province wide. We can’t reach everybody on our own,” said Chris Porter, executive director of the Ally Centre.