Northern Health launches text alerts for toxic drugs

Northern Health has launched a new text alert system in response to the toxic drug crisis.

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A screen shot of a text message conversation about an opt-in service on toxic drug and health alerts.
Toxic drug and health alert text opt-in. (Shailynn Foster,

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — Northern Health has launched a new text alert system in response to the toxic drug crisis.

Drug users, those who support them and community members are encouraged to opt-in for toxic drug alerts by texting the keyword “JOIN” to ALERTS (253787).

The system uses text messages to send alerts to help prevent drug poisoning and deaths by providing timely and up-to-date information to community members. Those who join the text service will receive alerts concerning toxic drugs, drug poisoning and public health updates.

“As the toxic drug crisis continues to take lives, we need every tool in the toolbox to keep people safer,” Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, said.

“Drug alerts in Northern communities means that more people will be able to take advantage of this critical tool to reduce their risk of drug poisonings and death.”

According to Northern Health, drug alerts play an essential role in encouraging those who use drugs to do so safely.

The health authority said the system will also allow subscribers to anonymously submit information that harm reduction teams can use to make alerts more informative.

The information that can be provided includes dates and locations of drug overdoses, physical descriptions of the drug and packaging, where the substance was purchased and what it is believed to be by texting using the keyword “OD”.

“The ability to incorporate the firsthand and witnessed knowledge of peers and partners, first responders and system subscribers is key to ensuring alerts are timely and informative,” said Dr. Jong Kim, Northern Health Chief Medical Health Officer.

“It is our hope that this tool will further empower people who use substances to do so more safely, as part of the ongoing effort to reduce the rates of drug poisonings from an increasingly toxic supply of illicit drugs.”

Northern Health joins Interior, Fraser and Island Health in offering the new system, which the health authorities have used to issue over 30 alerts since it began in the Interior Health region in May 2022.

Over 2,300 subscribers already use the system, according to Northern Health.

The BC Centre for Disease Control and the Office of Virtual Health at the Provincial Health Services Authority developed the system in partnership with regional health authorities.

In 2022, there were 26 illicit drug overdoses in Northeast B.C. and 2,272 across the province.

Recently, the province announced the decriminalization of those with small amounts of illegal drugs for their own use.

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