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Research project pilots new illegal drug alert warning system to help prevent overdoses

Vancouver – Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) is working with the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) on a new project to develop a more timely and accurate way to communicate information about clusters of drug overdoses and drug contamination alerts.
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​“Vancouver Coastal’s pilot project will give medical health officers access to what’s happening when it’s happening,” said provincial health officer Perry Kendall. “This real time information will help them decide and put into place an immediate course of action to prevent overdoses.”

The Real-time Drug Alert & Response (RADAR) project is starting to test several methods of reporting, including an online web form (at and a texting service at (236) 999-DOPE (3673). In both methods, people can report information such as the date of the overdose, what town and neighbourhood the substance was purchased in, types of substances thought to be used, and the physical description of the substances. Participants can also upload a photo of the drug and/or its packaging. Participants do not have to provide their names or contact information. Both methods are up and running currently and anyone can use them. 

Currently, data from several sources, such as BC Emergency Health Services, emergency departments and Insite and overdose prevention sites, is analyzed to find any anomalies in overdoses, which could signal a contaminated batch of drugs on the street. The information is then forwarded to harm reduction service providers to communicate to people who use drugs but these alerts often lag one to two weeks behind the data.

“253 people died in the VCH region from illegal drug overdose last year,” said Sara Young, Regional Leader, Mental Health & Substance Use at VCH, who is leading the project with Dr. Jane Buxton of the BC Centre for Disease Control. “We desperately need to find a better way to quickly get messages out about bad batches of drugs so that people can take added precautions, and prevent overdosing.” 

“When service providers relay the alerts to their clients they can also remind them about important harm reduction actions they can take: like not using alone, starting with a small amount, using Insite or an overdose prevention site, and ensuring a take-home naloxone kit is on hand, ” said Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, medical health officer at VCH. “This timely and relevant information may help people who use drugs stay safe.”

After eight months the project will be evaluated to determine possible future use. 

“We’re excited about the potential of this reporting tool to help people not just in Vancouver, but also across the country,” said Buxton. “This pilot project will help us determine what works and what needs to be improved, after which we hope to roll it out in other areas. Information is powerful—it will help us save lives.”

The research project is funded by the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute. 
It is one part of a comprehensive response plan focusing on attacking the issue from several angles—preventing overdoses, encouraging safer drug use, and providing treatment options for people with substance use disorders.

VCH’s research project supports the work of the Joint Task Force on Overdose Response established in 2016. As part of the wide range of actions taken, partners across the health system continue to expand access to life-saving naloxone and opioid addiction medications and treatments such as Suboxone, operate overdose prevention sites, work with Health Canada on approvals to open additional supervised consumption sites and improve the system of substance use services. 

For more information about overdoses and fentanyl please visit and

VCH is responsible for the delivery of $3.3 billion in community, hospital and residential care to more than one million people in communities including Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.

Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute—a world leader in translational health research—is the research body of Vancouver Coastal Health and a health partner of the University of British Columbia. VCHRI is one of Canada’s top funded research centres receiving between $80-100 million in research funding annually.

The BC Centre for Disease Control, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority, provides public health leadership through surveillance, detection, treatment, prevention and consultation services. The Centre provides diagnostic and treatment services for people with diseases of public health importance, and analytical and policy support to all levels of government and health authorities. The BCCDC also provides health promotion and prevention services to reduce the burden of chronic disease and preventable injury. For more information, please visit or follow us on Twitter @CDCofBC.


Tiffany Akins, Communications Leader
Vancouver Coastal Health
Phone: 604-708-5281
Cell: 604-319-7530

overdose; harm reduction



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