B.C’s Deadliest month, 170 Dead from Fentanyl and Opioids. No deaths recorded at safe injection sites
The gripping effect of Fentanyl and other opioids in British Columbia coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the substantial rise in deaths from illegal narcotics.
According to the B.C Coroner, the month of May saw a staggering 170 people lose their lives because of an illegal drug supply that’s more toxic and poisoned than ever.
“This is truly devastating to all of us. The impact of this tremendous loss is felt in communities and families in every corner of our province and in deeply profound ways. Each person was a light to the people in their world and now that light has tragically gone out. We mourn with each and every family of those we have lost to this terrible crisis.” said Judy Darcy, Minister for Mental Health
The overdose death rate was coming down in B.C., and the evidence pointed to the collective efforts from programs put in place by all levels of government. The rapid scale-up and distribution of naloxone and increased access to overdose prevention services (OPS) and treatment showed, through the BC Centre for Disease Control, helped to avert more than 6,000 deaths since the crisis began.
The immense pressure of two public health emergencies, so many unprecedented factors are bearing down swiftly on the province all at once. Borders are closed and the usual illegal supply chains are disrupted, leading to drugs that are more toxic than ever. Unemployment, social isolation, declining mental health and increased alcohol and substance use are also the reality for so many right now.
“In the past three months, we have taken significant steps to begin separating people from the even more poisoned and toxic drug supply and protect people who are using alone. By providing safe prescription alternatives, we are saving lives and connecting people to more treatment and health supports. said Judy Darcy
Next week the province will launch a 24/7 helpline for prescribers and pharmacists that will provide live, in-the-moment support to doctors, pharmacists and nurse practitioners while they are treating patients with opioid use disorder and considering prescribing safe prescription alternatives to the toxic drug supply.
The province has also launched an App. called Lifeguard which aims to help protect people who are having to use alone. The App. is now available on multiple devices for download.
Minister Darcy made a public plea to anyone using illegal drugs to be aware of the additional dangers they pose due to the interruption in the supply chain.
“If you use illicit drugs, those drugs are incredibly toxic and even more poisoned than before. I am asking each of you to have a plan. Buddy up so you’re not using poisoned drugs alone. Use the Lifeguard app – it will signal for help if you need it. Continue to visit OPS and supervised consumption services sites. They are open and are essential services in B.C.” said Darcy
Addictions and substance use challenges are very complex, with underlying social, economic and personal factors. Not everyone is on the same path, but everyone needs compassion and a chance to live and to thrive.
The 170 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths in May represents a 93% increase over the number of deaths from May 2019 (88) and a 44% increase over the number of deaths in April 2020 (118)
The townships of Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria are experiencing the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2020, even with the distribution of free naloxone kits.
The Northern Health Authority has the highest rate of illicit drug toxicity deaths (32 deaths per 100,000 individuals), followed by Vancouver Coastal Health Authority (29 deaths per 100,000) in 2020. Overall, the rate in B.C. is 26 deaths per 100,000 in 2020.
According to BC Emergency Health Services, paramedics respond to an average of 2,000 overdose calls per month in British Columbia. There have been no significant changes in that overdose call volume in 2020, aside from a slight increase in May (just over 2,300 calls).
The establishment of supervised drug injection sites in the province was met with backlash and condemnation by elected officials and citizens; however, it is important to point out no deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.