B.C. chief coroner Lisa Lapointe speaks to reporters in Victoria, B.C. on Feb. 7., about the nearly 1,500 overdose deaths that occurred in 2018. (Keri Coles/Black Press Media)

B.C. opioid overdoses still killing four people a day, health officials say

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for clean alternative to fentanyl-contaminated street drugs

A staggering 1,489 people died from a drug overdose in B.C. last year.

That’s roughly four people dying per day, across all corners of the province, the B.C. Coroner Service said in a news conference Thursday.

In 2017, there were 1,486 lives lost across the province, which has seen the lion’s share of the overdose crisis nationwide.

Speaking to reporters at the B.C. legislature in Victoria, the province’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe called the illicit drug supply on the streets unpredictable and unmanageable.

“The almost 1,500 deaths in B.C. in 2018 due to illicit drug overdoses far outweigh the numbers of people dying from motor vehicle incidents, homicides and suicides combined,” she said.

“Innovative and evidence-based approaches are necessary if we want to effect meaningful change and stop the dying. We need to be prepared to do things differently to save lives.”

According to data compiled through toxicology reports, fentanyl was detected in 85 per cent of all deaths last year, up from 82 per cent in 2017.

Nearly five times as many men died compared to women.

READ MORE: New in-depth report sheds light on who in BC is dying of drug overdoses

READ MORE: B.C. opioid crisis to get same world-renowned treatment approach as HIV/AIDS

The three townships to see the brunt of the crisis were Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria – unchanged from the year before.

Also for a second year, not a single death happened at an overdose prevention site or safe consumption site.

Overdose deaths by city
Infogram

Health officials renew call for decriminalization of drugs

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy said in a statement that the province is using “every possible available tool” to curb the deaths.

She said that 4,700 deaths have been averted since introducing a number of strategies, including the provincial overdose mobile response team.

On Thursday, B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry joined in on renewing calls made previously by advocates and officials – including Lapointe – for Ottawa to legislate access to clean drugs.

“If we’re going to turn the corner on this complex crisis, we need to find the ways to provide safer alternatives to the unregulated and highly-toxic drug supply and to end the stigma associated with criminalization of people who use drugs,” she said.

READ MORE: Most fatal overdose victims did not have recent police contact, Stats Canada data shows

READ MORE: If feds ease access to prescription heroin, B.C. could see relief, doctor says

Currently, Vancouver-based Crosstown Clinic is only one facility in B.C. that gives clients injectable diacetylmorphine – the active ingredient in heroin.

Since the province declared the overdose crisis a public health emergency in April 2016, the federal government has stated it will not be considering the decriminalization of opioids. Instead, it gave governments the ability to approve overdose prevention sites at a provincial level. Since then, B.C. has opened more than 40 sites. A further six federally-approved safe consumption sites have also opened.

Dr. Evan Wood, executive director with the BC Centre on Substance Use, reiterated the need to end drug prohibition.

“This latest report confirms what those on the front-line already know all too well: this crisis is not slowing down,” said Wood.

“If we’re going to stop overdoses from happening, we urgently need to end the harms caused by prohibition while also implementing upstream responses that address the serious health and social consequences of untreated addiction.”


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ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

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