Island Health and VIU Host Drug Overdose and Substance Use Community Forum Jan. 28

January 26, 2016 - 12:30pm

Island Health has issued two drug overdose alerts in the last two weeks, and now community partners in Nanaimo are pulling together to host an important public forum on drug overdose and substance use.

A panel of representatives from Island Health’s Harm Reduction Unit, RCMP’s community program, and Vancouver Island University (VIU) will provide critical information about the dangerous drugs that have recently made their way to Nanaimo, giving rise to an increase in drug overdoses since the middle of December.

The forum will take place at VIU’s Nanaimo campus on Thursday, January 28 (Building 355, Room 203) at 7 pm, and will be followed by a question and answer session.

“It’s a chance for the public to learn about overdose risks in Nanaimo and what people can do to save themselves and people they care about,” says Dr. Carrie Chassels, Executive Director, Student Affairs at VIU.

Presenters will include Griffin Russell, Harm Reduction Coordinator for Island Health, Medical Health Officer Dr. Paul Hasselback, members of the RCMP community units, and VIU medical and counselling staff, who will describe the roles they play to address drug overdoses, substance use and harm reduction.

“We have seen this increase in overdoses in Nanaimo, the island and to a lesser extent in the province,” said Russell. “The community response, including Island Health together with its community partners, will be discussed with emphasis on the Naloxone distribution and availability. 

Drug overdoses in Nanaimo are a community problem and that’s why VIU, Island Health, the RCMP and other partners are working together on this important public awareness initiative.”

VIU counsellor, Faye Shedletzky will describe the support available through the University’s Counselling Services department, and Island Health nurse practitioner, Diane Middagh will provide a brief overview of the services she provides on campus.

Middagh will also provide more details on how VIU’s medical clinic is now a dispensary site for Take-Home Naloxone kits, said Chassels.

According to the Toward the Heart website – a project of the provincial harm reduction program -- Naloxone is a life-saving medication that reverses the effects of an overdose from opioids, including heroin, methadone and morphine. BC has developed the Take-Home Naloxone Program to help save lives.

Chassels said a very small percentage of VIU students are engaged in high risk drug use activity but the University is being proactive.

“We launched a Healthy Minds, Healthy Campuses initiative at VIU more than a year ago called ‘Changing the Culture of Substance Use,’ which is a collaboration between Student Residence staff, Counselling Services, Nursing students and local organizations, to educate and support students in ways that promote overall health and well-being,” she said.

“VIU’s involvement in this community forum is part of that. Our goal is to help get the word out and assist our partners in any way we can. It’s very important that we provide timely support and information to any students who may be worried about people they care about, and who want to play a role in helping them.”

For more information, please visit and or call Health Link BC at 8-1-1.

For more information about VIU’s Changing the Culture of Substance Use initiative, visit




Central/North Island media inquiries: Valerie Wilson

Manager, Regional Communications


South Island media inquiries: Kellie Hudson

Media Relations Manager



Janina Stajic



Tags: In the Community

Sign up for our VIU news and experts email