Yearly death toll from B.C.’s drug overdose crisis up to 488
Published Wednesday, September 21, 2016 7:52AM PDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 21, 2016 2:40PM PDT
Despite ongoing efforts to combat B.C.’s overdose crisis, another 49 people died from illicit drugs in August, health officials revealed Wednesday.
That brings the province’s death toll up to 488 for the year. By comparison, there were 505 people killed by illegal drugs in all of 2015, and 368 the year before.
But there was some potentially positive news. August was the second month in a row to see a slight dip in overdose deaths, following the 55 recorded in July and 62 in June.
“We are very, very cautious about what that means and we need more data, more time to know if there’s a trend happening,” Health Minister Terry Lake told reporters. “But at this point we are somewhat cautiously optimistic.”
Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said August was also the first month of 2016 to see a decrease in deaths from the same month last year, but she too cautioned the public against complacency, noting there’s still much work to be done.
“The number of illicit drug deaths in this province is truly a crisis,” she said.
The highly dangerous opioid fentanyl continues to be a contributing factor the majority of fatal overdoses, Lapointe added. While the data for August isn’t available yet, fentanyl was detected in roughly 60 per cent of illicit drug deaths from January through July. That’s triple the number recorded over the same period last year.
“We still see fentanyl taking an exceptionally high toll,” she said, adding that B.C. has “very few deaths in the province due to fentanyl alone, which just emphasizes the risk of any illicit drug use.”
Lapointe and Lake were joined by Leslie McBain, who became a harm-reduction advocate after losing her son, Jordan, to an overdose.
McBain is starring in a public service video that will be broadcast in B.C. highlighting the need to approach drug users with compassion rather than judgment.
“Drug addiction and drug overdose can happen to anyone’s child. We need to have the straightforward, nonjudgmental, calm, fact-based talk with our loved ones and especially with our children. A talk that comes not from fear but from knowledge and love, and we have to work to end the tragic and failed war on drugs,” McBain said at the press conference. “I learned all of this the hard way as a bereaved mother.”
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Morris agreed, noting the police have told the province “we can’t arrest our way out of this.”
Some of the province’s apparent progress could be due to the increased availability of naloxone, an antidote for fentanyl and other opioids. All ambulance and fire crews now carry naloxone, which has been used to reverse 2,149 overdoses in B.C. so far.
Continuing with those efforts, the government announced it deregulated naloxone this week so it can be sold outside of pharmacies. It’s available for free at 297 sites across the province as well.
Earlier on Wednesday, Vancouver Coastal Health revealed its applying to Health Canada to expand the number of supervised injection sites by early 2017.
Health officials said there could be as many as four new sites opening in the city.
With files from The Canadian Press