Lone-user drug awareness campaign launded

Island Health has launched an awareness campaign for men who use drugs to help prevent overdose deaths and support men to break the silence about their drug use. 

“People use drugs for many, complex reasons, and often even the people closest to those who’ve overdosed didn’t know they were using,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “That’s why breaking down stigma about who uses drugs is so important. Let’s have open conversations that encourage people to break the silence and reach out for help.”

Last year in the Island Health region, 263 people died from illicit drug toxicity. Of those people, 225 were men - and 126 of them were in a private residence when they overdosed. 

“We know that among those who die from toxic drug poisoning, men who use alone are at greatest risk,” said Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health’s Vice President, Population Health & Chief Medical Health Officer. “We want them to know their lives matter - and there are supports and treatments to help keep them alive.” 

The campaign is aimed at men, primarily those employed in skilled trades and transport. Historical data from the BC Coroners Service (Illicit Drug Overdose Deaths in BC) shows that half of the men who died from toxic drugs were employed and of those, 55% worked in the trades and transport industry. 

People who use drugs and live with addictions may hide their drug use to avoid judgement and discrimination. Using alone is the result, and it puts them at higher risk of death from accidental overdose. If an individual is alone when they overdose, their ability to seek medical help diminishes greatly. 

There are alternatives to using alone – such as using in the presence of someone who can administer naloxone or call for help if needed, testing drugs and using a small amount to start, or accessing online resources such as the Lifeguard App or the National Overdose Response Service overdose prevention hotline (1-888-688 NORS [6677]). Island Health also operates supervised consumption or overdose prevention services in many communities in the region. 


Throughout the 8-week campaign, outreach will be through social media, radio and streaming messages, and display ads in transit shelters. Island Health’s web page will provide available resources, including locations for Overdose Prevention and Supervised Consumption Services. 


British Columbia has been the epicentre of the overdose epidemic in Canada, experiencing a fivefold increase in illicit drug toxicity deaths between 2010 and 2020. There have been over 7,000 overdose deaths in B.C. since 2016, surpassing annual deaths from car crashes, suicides, and homicides combined and leading to a decline in life expectancy at birth in B.C. The drug poisoning crisis in B.C. is deepening alongside the COVID-19 pandemic, with an average of five lives being lost to illicit drug toxicity every day. 

Looking for more information? Reach out for help by calling BC Alcohol and Drug Information Referral Services at 1-800-663-1441. Free, multilingual telephone assistance is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Or visit https://www.islandhealth.ca/our-services/mental-health-substance-use-services/overdose-prevention-services.

Island Health Medical Health Officer Dr. Sandra Allison will be available via Zoom at 1 p.m. on May 4 to answer questions from media. If you would like to receive the Zoom link, please RSVP to Dominic.abassi@viha.ca.


Health-care workers need your help

Dr. Richard Stanwick

The third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is here and like all of us, our health-care teams are ready to put the pandemic behind them. For more than a year, public health teams, medical staff, staff and care providers across Island Health have focused their energies on preventing and managing the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, and keeping you and your loved ones safe. This unprecedented effort continues, in addition to other important, everyday health-care needs beyond the pandemic. You can help by following public health orders and guidelines.

As the detailed April 16 presentation from the Province showed, COVID-19 cases remain high in our communities and we are seeing an increasing presence of the new Variants of Concern. Our Public Health teams are working long hours in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our communities through testing and collection, case and contact management, and vaccinations.

But our health-care teams are tired. Many are on the verge of exhaustion. We are immensely proud of all the people who work so tirelessly to keep our health system running. In recent days, there also has been discussion about acute care occupancy and available critical care beds. Island Health has the necessary infrastructure and capacity with respect to critical care beds and ventilators. But occupancy numbers and ventilator supply doesn’t tell the full story. For every person in a critical care bed, whether they are being treated for COVID-19 or another serious medical condition, a team of dedicated professionals is required to deliver care. It is a system that relies on people. Our people are dedicated, diligent and resilient, and their commitment to providing excellent care is unwavering. But they are being stretched to their limit as this pandemic continues.

COVID-19 is swift. Right now, we are a third of the way to achieving community immunity and we need to adhere to public health orders and guidelines to prevent overloading our health-system. 

We acknowledge the global pandemic continues to be an extremely challenging experience for so many. We appreciate everything the community has done to support us, and we look forward to the continued roll-out of vaccine. Until we have sufficient community immunity, help reduce the burden on the health-care system by not gathering indoors with people we don’t live with, avoiding all non-essential travel by staying local, and staying home when sick. Your efforts to stick to these principles are a show of support for our frontline workers. And they need all that support more than ever right now. 

Dr. Richard Stanwick, Vice President Population Health and Chief Medical Health Officer, and
Dr. Ben Williams, Vice President, Medicine and Quality and Chief Medical Executive

Island Health advises of toxic drug overdoses

0422 - Island Health is urging people to use strategies to stay safer when using drugs. Due to the toxic drug supply, there is currently an increase in overdoses across the Island.

Island Health has issued overdose advisories for Victoria, Nanaimo, Comox Valley and Campbell River.

If you use drugs, stay safer by following these steps if someone overdoses:

  • Call 9-1-1 right away 
  • Provide rescue breathing
  • Give Naloxone

Strategies for safer use:

  • Visit your local Overdose Prevention Service (OPS)
  • Have your drugs checked at your local OPS
  • Carry Naloxone and have an overdose response plan
  • Do a tester; try a little before your regular hit
  • Fix with a friend; if alone, be close to help
    • Try the LifeguardApp on your phone www.lifeguarddh.com
    • Contact the National Overdose Response Service at 1-888-688-6677
  • Stagger your use with a friend, so someone can respond if needed

Island Health asks everyone to create safe space for respectful dialogue around substance use. People from all walks of life use drugs for different reasons. We are all human. We all experience differing traumas and having different coping strategies. We all need connection and compassion. Starting a conversation could save a life.

If you or someone you know needs support, there is help. Resources are available at IslandHealth.ca/StopOverdose.

Nanaimo hospital reports another virus case

0416 - Island Health’s outbreak response has identified one additional case related to the outbreak declared on April 14 in the High Intensity Rehab Unit at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital (NRGH).

The additional case, in a patient, was identified through testing of all patients on the unit. All other test results in patients were negative. Testing of staff on the unit continues and all results received to date have been negative. In total, four patients have tested positive related to this outbreak.

Until further notice, no new admissions will be allowed to the High Intensity Rehab Unit, and staff working between other units is restricted. No patients from the unit will be transferred to long-term care or assisted living.

The outbreak remains limited to the High Intensity Rehab Unit and no other areas of the hospital are currently affected. The hospital is still a safe place and people should not avoid seeking emergency care if they require it. All outpatient services and scheduled procedures will continue as normal.

Island Health has implemented comprehensive strategies to prevent and respond to COVID-19 in long-term care, acute care, assisted living and independent living facilities.

Communication with patients, families and staff is ongoing.

For more information about COVID-19, please visit: www.islandhealth.ca/covid19.

Work launched on new hospital intensive care unit

Dignitaries from levels of government were on hand for the sod turning. /VIHA photo

People in Nanaimo will soon have a modern intensive care unit (ICU) at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital (NRGH), with construction now underway.

"This past year has demonstrated how crucial it is to invest in and maintain a strong public health-care system," said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. "The need for a new ICU for the people of Nanaimo was clear, and I'm proud that our government responded with both a technological upgrade and an expansion in size."

The new ICU will be three times the current unit's size and will include improvements such as 12 larger single-patient rooms, ceiling mounted service booms and overhead patient lifts, a medication room, a family consult room, and a staff break room and rest area.

It will also include a space for a high-acuity unit, a transitional place where critical-care patients need less monitoring than in the ICU.

"This new and expanded ICU is wonderful news for the people of Nanaimo and surrounding area," said Sheila Malcolmson, MLA for Nanaimo. "The community has been advocating for a new ICU for years, and I am proud to be part of the government that is delivering the services they so need."

The current 10-bed ICU, built in 1970, is outdated in its space and functionality. Once a formal request was received from Island Health in October 2017, the Ministry of Health moved forward with planning, approval and now construction to ensure residents have access to a facility that will provide enhanced care.

"I'm thrilled that the people of this region will have an improved ICU, which will benefit patients and health-care workers. With ICU demand expected to increase in coming years due to a growing population, especially in older adults, this project is necessary for the well-being of our current and future residents," said Doug Routley, MLA for Nanaimo-North Cowichan.

The new ICU will cost $41.57 million, which will be cost shared between the provincial government through Island Health, the Nanaimo Regional Hospital District and the Nanaimo and District Hospital Foundation.

The project will create approximately 200 direct and 100 indirect jobs.

The new ICU is expected to open for patients in early 2023 and will be located south of the current emergency department.


Leah Hollins, Island Health board chair -

"It is fantastic to see the construction begin on the new ICU at Nanaimo General Regional Hospital. The new space is triple the size of the current ICU, providing care teams the space they need to deliver quality care for patients today and into the future."

Ian Thorpe, chair, Nanaimo Regional Hospital District -

"The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how important it is for our region to have state-of-the-art medical facilities and sufficient resources to respond to the critical health-care needs of our residents. The new ICU will be a significant addition to our local hospital. We are very pleased to be a funding partner and to see construction getting underway."

Janice Perrino, chief executive officer, Nanaimo and District Hospital Foundation -

"This past year has shown all of us how important our ICU is to the residents of the central and north Island, and we are thrilled to see construction starting today. To date, we have raised an incredible $4 million towards our $5 million goal for the medical equipment in the new ICU. Thank you to everyone for your generosity and commitment to this project."