It has been nearly two years since the Province declared the increase in overdose deaths a public health emergency and this month, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) is reporting a suspected 32 overdose deaths in March, an increase from 27 deaths reported by the BC Coroners Service for the same month last year. Despite February seeing some reprieve with 18 overdose deaths in Vancouver, this recent data signals that the crisis is not slowing down.
March also saw 486 calls to Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services (VFRS), an increase of over 23 per cent from February and the highest since July of last year. The crisis continues to put enormous pressure on first responders and community services.
“We are losing our friends and family to a poisoned drug supply and a legal framework that treats addiction as a criminal issue, not a life-threatening health condition,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson. “People are dying from poisoned drugs every day in Vancouver and we cannot accept this preventable catastrophe - we need to ensure people with addictions can access safe drugs and effective treatment options. Decriminalizing possession, combined with health care supports including prevention, harm reduction, and treatment, will save many lives. The Province’s recent decision to allow nurse practitioners to prescribe medications as part of opioid substitution therapy is a much-needed step forward.”
Given the deepening crisis, Mayor Robertson is including an update from health officials on the April 17 Council agenda. As part of the update, the report will provide next steps for the City to tackle the crisis.
The week of March 19 to March 25 saw particularly shocking data with VPD reporting 10 suspected overdose deaths, up from five reported the previous week. VFRS also reported 152 overdose calls, up from 110 the week before and 28 per cent higher than the 2017 average.
Yesterday, the BC Coroners Service released a report on illicit drug overdoses from the death review panel. The report includes three key recommendations: expanding opioid agonist treatments, ensuring accountable system of care to provide evidence-based system addiction and treatment services, and expanding drug checking services. The City is encouraged to see these recommendations, which if implemented, would allow people to access evidence-based treatment and make safer decisions around substance use, and save lives during this crisis.
Last year, the City partnered with the BC Centre on Substance Use to purchase an advanced and portable drug-checking machine that is currently being used at two supervised injection services in Vancouver. The valuable data collected from this new technology is expected to be released later this year.
Toxicology reports on the most recent deaths are not yet complete, and final overdose death numbers need to be confirmed by the BC Coroners Service.
The BC Coroners Service reported that 365 people died of an illicit drug overdose in Vancouver in 2017, that’s one death a day for the entire year. Read the BC Coroners Services’ report on Illicit Drug Overdose Deaths in BC, January 1, 2008 to February 28, 2018 here.