Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services reported 174 overdose calls for the week of February 26 to March 5 — the highest number recorded in the city to date this year. Last week’s number of overdose calls was also extremely high compared to historical data. The majority of the calls were in the Downtown Eastside (see maps below), however the number of cases outside the downtown area also increased last week.
Vancouver Police also reported 14 suspected overdose deaths across the city last week – six more than the previous week. Toxicology reports are not yet complete on these cases, and final overdose death numbers need to be confirmed by the BC Coroners Service.
“Drug overdose deaths in the fentanyl crisis continue to have a devastating impact throughout Vancouver,” says Mayor Gregor Robertson. “The City shoulders a huge burden of the drug overdose response, and our first responders and front-line community workers are at a breaking point. The federal government recently gave $10 million to the BC government to fight the overdose crisis - funds that are desperately needed to save lives by broadening access to clean prescription drugs and substitution therapy, and expanding treatment-on-demand services to help solve this public health emergency.”
The Vancouver-based SALOME study demonstrated that 15-25% of long-term opioid users who have repeatedly failed with methadone have better results with injectable hydromorphone or diacetylmorphine (prescription heroin). Vancouver Coastal Health and the provincial medical health officers have recommended that access to injectable opioid assisted therapy with prescription opioids be dramatically scaled up.
Opioid dependence is one of the most serious health concerns in the province; 922 people died from overdoses last year in BC—nearly 25 per cent of them in Vancouver. On April 14, 2016, BC’s provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall declared the significant increase in drug-related overdoses and deaths a public health emergency. Drug overdoses are now among the top 10 causes of death in British Columbia, according to data from the Vital Statistics Agency. In comparison, the number of deaths due to Motor Vehicle Accidents in 2015 – 300 deaths – was one-third the number of overdose deaths in 2016.