B.C. nears overdose record as pandemic restrictions worsen crisis
VANCOUVER -- With two months of data yet to be compiled, British Columbia is on the verge of breaking its previous record for the most overdose deaths in a calendar year.
"All the things they did to help slow the spread of COVID directly impacted this very vulnerable group of people," said Kathleen Radu, whose son Morgan Goodridge died of a toxic drug overdose in Vancouver on June 16.
She said her son, who struggled with substance abuse, had been sober for five months before the pandemic started. He had been turning things around.
“He just got a new car and was starting a new job,” she said.
Radu explained COVID-19 restrictions meant her son was forced to isolate more often, which affected his condition.
"It took him out of his routine,” she said. “Before, he was at the pool five days a week swimming and he was doing a lot of things that were helping his mental health to fight his battle with addiction.”
Goodridge overdosed on toxic street drugs eight days after his 26th birthday.
On Wednesday, the BC Coroners Service’s updated Illicit Drug Toxicity Deaths report showed 162 people had died of overdose in October.
Total deaths in 2020, according to the same report, are now up to 1,386, with the months of November and December still be to be tallied.
The previous provincial record for overdose deaths in one year was 1,549, set in 2018.
"These people that have substance use disorder, because of the shame and stigma, they are using alone and hiding in their homes," said Helen Jennens, who has also lost her adult sons Rian and Tyler to drug overdose.
According to same BC Coroners Service report, 82 per cent of the toxic drug overdoses in 2020 have happened indoors.
Both women say if their sons had access to a safe supply of drugs and better support services available to them, they could have managed their addictions better.
“This is a health emergency and it needs to be treated like a health emergency,” said BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau. “We need to see the resources that go into not only addressing the emergency but addressing what is creating the conditions that we are finding so many people who are losing their lives to this poisonous drug supply.”
On Thursday, the provincial government swore in Nanaimo MLA Sheila Malcolmson as B.C.’s new Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.
“The biggest challenge we face right now is COVID-19 and the impact that is having on people and our ability to get to those who are struggling with addiction and experiencing overdoses,” said B.C. Premier John Horgan.
He added the NDP government has promised more treatment beds and committed to working with police chiefs and all forms of government on decriminalizing and destigmatizing addictions.