VICTORIA -- Health officials are warning drug users in Victoria and Campbell River of a highly toxic drug supply that’s causing an increase in overdoses in the Vancouver Island communities.

Island Health says users of opioids and stimulants are now at increased risk of overdose when injecting and inhaling drugs.

The health authority urges users not to use drugs alone and to have their drugs checked for potentially fatal additives like fentanyl before using.

The warning comes as British Columbia health officials marked five years since the province declared a public health emergency due to drug overdoses on Wednesday.

In that time, more than 7,000 people in B.C. have died of overdoses, with 2020 marking the deadliest year in the province’s history with 1,724 lives lost. An additional 329 drug deaths took place in the first two months of 2021.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry called the death toll “staggering and devastating” in a live news conference Wednesday.

The provincial health officer acknowledged that the province’s actions to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year have further isolated drug users and led to increased deaths.

On Wednesday, the province announced it would formally seek an exemption from Health Canada to decriminalize personal drug possession in B.C. “I am happy that we are moving in that direction in this province,” Henry said.

In a joint statement with health officials Wednesday morning, Premier John Horgan said the province “cannot – and will not – allow this tragedy to continue.”

B.C.’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe announced Wednesday the province would undertake a new death review panel to investigate providing a safer drug supply for B.C. users.