Drugs & alcohol

News and updates

Take-home naloxone kits are available free of charge for those at risk of an opioid overdose.

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.

Don't get caught unaware. Fentanyl may be hiding in street drugs around Vancouver and at UBC.

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 Service.

What can I do for myself right now?

Drug and alcohol basics

People choose to use substances, like drugs or alcohol, for a variety of reasons, such as1:

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

Alcohol and other drugs connect to the brain’s wiring 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.

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.

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

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

Party Safer: Alcohol

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.

  • Plan to eat before you go out

Food can slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.

  • Plan what kind of night you want to have

Decisions made once you've had a drink or two might be different than those you would make sober.

  • 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.

While you are out

  • Pace your drinks

Try having a non-alcoholic beverage in between each alcoholic beverage you choose to drink.

You can reduce your risk of injury and harm by following Canada’s Low Risk Drinking Guidelines:

  • drinking no more than 3 drinks (for women) on any single occasion
  • drinking no more than 4 drinks (for men) on any single occasion
  • Know what you are drinking

Single or double, bottle or pint, there are very different amounts of alcohol in different mixes and sizes of drinks. Knowing what you are drinking - and the amount of alcohol in it - helps you stay within your limits.

Drugs can be mixed with drinks, sometimes unknown to the drinker, to make the person feel and act more drunk than they are. Keep an eye on what you are drinking, and if you’re offered a drink that you don't see poured, it is okay to politely decline.

  • Check in on your friends

Take care of the people you go out with. Check in with them throughout the night and before you leave a venue (if you are leaving without them) to make sure everyone is having a safe, good time.

Recognize alcohol poisoning

Alcohol poisoning happens when there is a high amount of alcohol in someone's bloodstream, and it is considered toxic.

Symptoms include:

  • Confusion and reduced level of consciousness
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (fewer 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 woken up

It’s not necessary for all of these symptoms to be present before you seek help.

A person who is unconscious and can't be woken up is at risk of dying. Call 911 if you encounter someone in this condition.

Fentanyl is deadly and may be hiding in other drugs

Fentanyl is a highly potent pain killer that is being mixed into party drugs or 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.

Reduce your risk

  • 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 - it's confidential and free

Carry a naloxone kit, now available from Student Health Service, confidential and free for students at risk of an opioid overdose and people likely to witness and respond to an overdose, such as a family or friend of someone at risk.

Kits are also available for free to people at risk of an opioid overdose and people likely to witness and respond to an overdose at UBC Urgent Care, the UBC Pharmacists Clinic, and University Pharmacy (to obtain a kit from University Pharmacy, please order it 1 to 2 days ahead). Kits are also available for purchase at participating BC pharmacies.

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. Learn more about how to use Naloxone.
  • 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 confidential 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.

  • Confidential and free Naloxone kits are available at Student Health Service to UBC students at risk of an opioid overdose and people likely to witness and respond to an overdose, such as a family or friend of someone at risk.

Kits are also available for free at UBC Urgent Care, the UBC Pharmacists Clinic, and University Pharmacy (to obtain a kit from University Pharmacy, please order it 1 to 2 days ahead). You may also purchase a kit at participating BC pharmacies.

  • Confidentiality: When you pick up a Naloxone kit, your information will not be recorded or shared.

Student Health sends a tally of Naloxone kits claimed to the BC Centre for Disease Control, but does not record any personal information. To maintain your confidentiality, you can call or visit Student Health Service to set up a Naloxone appointment.

  • Naloxone kits and/or training sessions are available by appointment for students and their family and friends.

Visit the Student Health Service web page 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

The following 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 effectively

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

  • 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 or writing 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 or academic success?
  • Has alcohol or drug use affected your ability to attend classes or lab, move forward on your thesis, or participate in group meetings?
  • 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 Service. 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.