Drugs & alcohol

News and updates

Naloxone, the antidote to a public health emergency

Over the past few months, I’ve read many alarming headlines about fentanyl overdoses in BC. My first reaction was to separate myself from the ‘drug user’ persona fentanyl seems to harm. Fentanyl, an opioid prescribed as an intense painkiller, has trickled into street and party drugs, causing unprecedented overdose deaths.

Fentanyl can be deadly: Be drug smart in Vancouver

Fentanyl may be hiding in the illicit drugs you’re using. You won’t see it, smell it or taste it, but it can kill you. Be drug smart, and pick up a naloxone kit from UBC's Student Health Services.

What can I do for myself right now?

Drug and alcohol basics

Alcohol, drugs, and your wellbeing

Some people choose to use substances such as street drugs or alcohol because of the short-term positive effects on moods and social experiences. For example, responsibly enjoying a drink with a friend can be fun.

Yet all substance use carries a certain amount of risk, making it important to consider the short-term and long-term effects of alcohol and drug use on your health and success.

How alcohol and drugs affect the body

Alcohol and other drugs “tap into the wiring system of the human brain” and influence how nerve cells exchange and process information1. In other words, a drug is a substance that causes a change in someone’s mental, emotional, or physical state2.

1 HeretoHelp (2012). Understanding Substance Use: A health promotion perspective.

2 Alberta Health Services (2012), Other Drugs, Health Information.

Reasons people use drugs may include wanting to1:

  • feel good, confident, and/or relaxed,
  • manage an illness or improve mental or physical performance,
  • reduce anxiety, stress, sadness, depression, or grief, and/or
  • experience something new and unfamiliar.

1 HeretoHelp (2012). Understanding Substance Use: A health promotion perspective.

Alcohol safety

Making a plan before you go out

A little planning before your first drink can help you have fun and stay safe.

  • Decide how much you're going to drink

Set a limit on the number of drinks you will have based on your knowledge of how alcohol affects you personally. Try to stick to no more than one drink per hour.

  • Plan to eat before you go out

Foods like bread, pasta, or cheese can slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream and keep you feeling better, longer.

  • Plan to make or buy your own drinks
  • If you’re offered a drink that you don't see poured, it is okay to politely decline.
  • Keep your hand on your drink at all times to reduce the risk of someone spiking it with a drug.
  • Drink from bottles rather than cups when possible as it is more difficult to spike a bottle.
  • Plan your ride home
  • Make someone the designated driver or keep some extra cash for a taxi at the end of the night.
  • If you would rather use transit, look up when the last bus leaves so you can make it home safely.

"A person who is unconscious or can't be roused is at risk of dying. Call 9-1-1 if you encounter someone in this condition."

Recognize alcohol poisoning

Alcohol poisoning symptoms include:

  • Confusion and reduced level of consciousness
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (less than eight breaths a minute)
  • Irregular breathing (a gap of more than 10 seconds between breaths)
  • Blue-tinged skin or pale skin
  • Low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • Unconsciousness ("passing out"), and can't be roused.
  • It’s not necessary for all of these symptoms to be present before you seek help. A person who is unconscious or can't be roused is at risk of dying. Call 9-1-1 if you encounter someone in this condition.

Fentanyl - Stay safe

Fenantyl is a highly potent pain killer that is being mixed into street drugs in Vancouver and at UBC. In 2016 alone, deaths related to drug overdose increased 79% from 2015.

If you use or plan to use illicit drugs - including ecstasy, methamphetamines, and cocaine - it's important to make a plan to stay safe and know how to recognize the signs of an overdose.

Make a plan to stay safe

  • Never use alone

Instead, stagger your usage with a friend’s by waiting 5 to 10 minutes before the other person uses. Also, remember to look out for your friends and stay alert for signs of an overdose, including severe sleepiness, unresponsiveness to being roused, and shallow breathing.

  • Go slow

Use low doses of the drug to start. If the drug contains fentanyl, even small doses could cause an overdose within 10 minutes.

  • Don't mix drugs with each other or with alcohol

Mixing drugs is more likely to cause an overdose.

  • Carry naloxone

Carry a naloxone kit, now available from Student Health Services, free for students who indicate they are using drugs or plan to use drugs, and for friends and family of high risk individuals. Kits are also available for free to anyone who uses or plans to use drugs, and their friends and family, at UBC Urgent Care and for purchase at participating BC pharmacies, including University Pharmacy (to obtain a kit from University Pharmacy, please order it 1 to 2 days ahead).

Know the signs of an overdose

  • Person cannot stay awake
  • Can’t talk or walk
  • Slow or no breathing, gurgling
  • Skin looks pale or blue, feels cold
  • Body is limp
  • No response to noise or knuckles being rubbed hard on the breast bone

Know the steps: What to do in case of an overdose

If you suspect an overdose, call 911, then follow the SAVE ME steps:

  • S - Stimulate. Check if the person is responsive, can you wake them up?

  • A - Airway. Make sure there is nothing in the mouth blocking the airway, or stopping them from breathing.

  • V - Ventilate. Help them breathe. Plug the nose, tilt the head back and give one breath every 5 seconds.

  • E - Evaluate. Do you see any improvement?

Use naloxone if available:

  • M - Muscular injection. Inject one dose (1cc) of naloxone into a muscle. Click here  to learn more about Naloxone and how to safely administer it.

  • E - Evaluate and support. Is the person breathing? If they are not awake in 5 minutes, give one more 1cc dose of naloxone.

Pick up a Naloxone kit 

Naloxone is the antidote to drug overdoses caused by opioids, including fentanyl. When you pick up a Naloxone kit, you will get training on how to use the injectable antidote and how to recognize the signs and symptoms of an overdose. 

  • Free Naloxone kits are available at Student Health Services to UBC students who indicate they are using drugs or plan to use drugs, and for friends and family of high risk individuals.

Kits are also available for free to anyone who uses or plans to use drugs, and their friends and family, at UBC Urgent Care and for purchase at participating BC pharmacies, including University Pharmacy (to obtain a kit from University Pharmacy, please order it 1 to 2 days ahead).

  • When you pick up a Naloxone kit, your information is kept confidential.

Your Naloxone appointment will not be recorded in any of your personal records. To maintain your confidentiality, you can visit Student Health Services in-person or phone and ask to speak with a nurse to set up a Naloxone appointment.

  • Naloxone appointments and training sessions are available every Wednesday (except March 1st) from 1:00 pm to 7:00 pm for students and their family and friends. 

Visit Student Health Services for more information and to make an appointment.

Study drugs and safer alternatives

Study drugs

The term “study drug” refers to the misuse of prescription drugs to increase mental processing. Adderall, Ritalin, and other stimulants often fall into the category of study drugs.

Students who use study drugs typically say they do so to focus or do better on a paper or project1.

Using a study drug can increase focus but can also raise blood pressure, increase heart rate, interfere with sleep and appetite, cause irritability, and lead to feelings of sadness and lack of motivation as the drug wears off.

In extreme cases, your heart can beat dangerously out of control (arrhythmia) and sudden death can occur.

1 Dussault, C., Weyandt, L.; An Examination of Prescription Stimulant Misuse and Psychological Variables Among Sorority and Fraternity College Populations, online 5 December 2011.

Alternatives to using study drugs

Simple techniques can keep you focused and help you get things done, allowing you to avoid the risks associated with using study drugs.

  • Learn how to manage your time more efficiently

The UBC Learning Commons offers suggestions on how to stay organized and manage your time:

  • Plan out your semester

Get a four-month calendar (available at the UBC Bookstore). Write down the dates of all your term papers, midterms, presentations and any other important academic deadlines.

  • Organize your week

Use a weekly planner to map out how you will accomplish your weekly tasks. Try the UBC Learning Commons Assignment Calculator.

  • Maximize your energy

Think about the time of day you are most effective and have the most energy. Plan to do your most difficult work during these times. Then plan less taxing activities like exercising or visiting friends for when your energy and focus are not as high.

  • Break down your tasks

If you have an assignment due in four weeks, schedule a certain number of hours for research, writing, and editing. Starting early and breaking a project down into smaller tasks will give you a sense of accomplishment and the motivation to finish.

  • Eat well

Eat a nutritious breakfast, lunch, and dinner to keep your mind focused on your tasks.

  • Sleep enough

Get about seven-to-nine hours of sleep each night. Spending more time sleeping and less time studying late at night may seem counterintuitive, but you’ll work more efficiently and perform better when you feel well-rested.

  • Build confidence in your ability to succeed

Use positive self-talk and question your negative self-criticism. Practice saying things to yourself that are both positive and accurate.

Harmful effects of drug use and where to go for help

Harmful drug use

Each drug is unique and will affect people differently. Harmful drug use has negative effects that outweigh the potential benefits. The harm can be physical (e.g. rapid heart rate), psychological (e.g. cravings), and cognitive (e.g. poor concentration or judgment).

Harmful effects of drug use and/or misuse can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Decreased appetite
  • Depression
  • Exhaustion
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased, time, energy, and other resources spent on using the drug
  • Lack of interest in usual activities
  • Paranoia
  • Poor motivation
  • Psychotic symptoms

Drug use that continues in a harmful way can result in the inability to keep up with the academic demands of university life, difficulty maintaining close relationships with friends and family, money problems, the development of dependence on the drugs being taken, and, in some situations, overdose and death.

The dangers of combining drugs

Drugs can cause a variety of problems – even more so when multiple drugs are used in combination. It is best to avoid combining any kinds of drugs. However, if you do use multiple substances at the same time, seek out more information about the combination you are using before you use.

Knowing when alcohol or drug use is a problem

Thinking that you may have a problem with alcohol or drug use is the first step to getting help.

  • Has alcohol or drug use been affecting your grades?
  • Has alcohol or drug use affected your ability to attend classes?
  • Has alcohol or drug use affected your ability to meet your academic goals?

If you answered yes to any one of these, consider exploring strategies for managing your alcohol or drug use. You should also consider seeking help from a health professional, such as a doctor or mental health professional.

Get information and help with alcohol or drug use

  • Consider speaking with a mental health professional at Counselling Services, or a doctor at Student Health Services. Speaking with a health professional can help you understand your alcohol or drug use, build management strategies, and determine next steps.
  • The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has more information about addiction to a variety of substances, and where to find treatment.
  • In Vancouver, you can get help for addiction by contacting the Pacific Spirit Community Help Centre and letting them know that you are UBC student looking for drug or alcohol counselling.

What other students are saying about drugs and alcohol