Overdose deaths in March likely to surpass February totals

March 21, 2017 | Safer Communities

With 11 days remaining in March, overdose deaths in Vancouver are likely to increase over February totals. To date, the Vancouver Police Department has reported 21 suspected overdose deaths in Vancouver whereas in February, there were 25 recorded by VPD. Toxicology reports are not yet complete on cases that occurred in March, and final overdose death numbers need to be confirmed by the BC Coroners Service. It should be noted that VPD do not record all overdose deaths, such as those occurring in hospitals.

Furthermore, Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services reported 104 overdose calls for the week of March 13, an increase from the previous week. The majority of the calls were in the Downtown Eastside, however the number of cases outside the downtown area remained significant.

“The City’s first responders and front line community service workers are at a breaking point, shouldering a large share of the overdose response in the fentanyl crisis,” says Mayor Gregor Robertson. “Vancouver Coastal Health’s Mobile Medical Unit at 58 Hastings has saved hundreds of lives with invaluable emergency care and treatment-on-demand over the last several months, but will soon be shutting its doors. We desperately need the BC government to spend the recently received $10 million from the federal government to combat the fentanyl crisis to broaden access to clean prescription drugs, substitution therapy and treatment-on-demand to help bring relief to our first responders who are working tirelessly to save lives from drug overdoses.”

In order to support work to reverse this trend, the City is advocating that senior levels of government take immediate steps to increase access to treatment on demand options. Injectable Opioid Assisted Therapy has been proven to work for those at most risk of overdose. Presently, the Crosstown clinic only has capacity to offer lifesaving treatment to 140 patients. However, City staff and local addictions experts estimate that there are at least 450 others that are in urgent need of this treatment option. Staff estimate that $8 million is needed from various levels of government to provide immediate injectable therapy and psycho-social supports for patients in Vancouver. Additional investments should also be targeted towards other regions that are experiencing high rates of overdose deaths. These investments would save lives and reduce long-term healthcare costs through better patient outcomes. Beyond this, senior levels of government must take upstream measures to prevent the negative impacts of substance use on individuals and their loved ones through drug policy reform, investment in national early care and learning, housing affordability, and a national strategy for poverty reduction.  

It has been nearly one year since BC’s provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall declared the significant increase in drug-related overdoses and deaths a public health emergency on April 14, 2016. 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. Drug overdoses are now among the top 10 causes of death in British Columbia, according to data from the Vital Statistics Agency.

You can read the BC Coroner Service report on illicit drug overdose deaths for February 2017 here