Northern Health Reacts to Overdose Crisis
Vancouver, B.C. – Seemingly no end in sight to the overdose crisis in British Columbia.
New numbers released Friday by the BC Coroners Service showed the number of overdose deaths in the province is up 88 per cent compared with the same period in 2016.
Data showed that there were 111 suspected drug overdose deaths in June 2017, an average of 3.7 each day and a 61 per cent increase from June 2016.
This increases the provisional number of deaths for the year to date to 780 (28 in northern B.C.), up from 414 at this time last year.
The numbers also show that almost three-quarters of all illicit drug deaths involved persons between the ages of 30 and 59 years. Four out of five who died were male.
Also of note, nine in 10 illicit drug deaths occurred inside – none occurred at any supervised consumption sites.
So far, this year, Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health Authority have the highest number (258 and 249 respectively) of illicit drug overdose deaths, making up 65 per cent of all illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C.
The BC Coroners Service also revealed that 78 per cent of overdose deaths from January to May 2017 were fentanyl related – more than double the number over the same period in 2016.
Dr. Raina Fumerton, northwest medical health officer for Northern Health, says she’s “alarmed” by the latest statistics adding they are “unacceptably high,” though the rate of overdose deaths remains higher in the Lower Mainland than the North.
“Right now the provincial rate is 32.5 deaths per 100,000 people – and that’s for 2017. Last year the provincial rate was 20.6 deaths per 100,000. If you go back to 2012 the rate was 5.9 she says.
“At Northern Health we’ve similarly seen a rising trend in rates. Right now (2017) the rate of illicit overdose deaths is 19.6 per 100,000 versus 18.2 last year. So, relatively speaking, compared to the province, we in the North have a lower rate.”
Like the province, Fumerton says fentanyl related deaths are on the rise in the North too.
“I’ve looked at fentanyl data up to May 2017 and of the 25 unintended illicit drug overdose deaths in the North, 23 of those had fentanyl involved. So, that’s 92 per cent.”
She says work is being done to address the issue such as collaborative work between Northern Health, the Province, municipalities and community agencies. She adds Northern Health continues to operate its overdose prevention site along with other efforts including using naloxone – a medication used to block the effects of opioids in an overdose situation – and providing public awareness. Things she believes are helping.
“Yeah. I think so. I mean, we’ve really done a great job in partnership with our community agencies, municipalities and the Province – really getting the information out there so people understand the risk and what the risk is and how to protect themselves. As well, the expansion of Naloxone…and decreasing stigma – improving access to places where people can use their drugs safely and be monitored. I think all of those efforts are making a difference.”
That being said she notes the drug supply remains “extremely dangerous” and becoming more so. All that considered, is she optimistic things will improve?
“Absolutely. I don’t think I could get up in the morning and do my job if I didn’t have hope. I’ve been really inspired by the collaborative work that’s happening at all levels of society,” says Fumerton.
“And I think really addressing some of the root causes of addiction is also a really important piece to focus on. I think that we really need to start thinking about drug policy and ways in which we can improve drug policies so it helps to address this problem at the societal level as well.”