B.C. health officials hope there’s no repeat of last fall’s overdose spike

published on September 13, 2017 by Nick Eagland in The Vancouver Sun

Health officials say that while they can’t predict whether they’ll face another deadly spike in overdoses this fall, their warning remains the same — don’t use alone. 

Last November, the arrival of the toxic opioid carfentanil in the street-drug supply contributed to a spike in illicit-drug overdoses that killed 137 people, up from 74 the previous month. 

B.C. paramedics responded to a staggering 2,378 overdose and poisoning calls that month, up from 1,681 in October.

Then, in December, overdoses killed 161 people, the highest monthly number on record.

That month, the Ministry of Health established a network of overdose-prevention sites across the province and dispatched its mobile-medical unit — used for health emergencies and disasters — to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Dr. Keith Ahamad, a clinician researcher at the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, said addictions doctors worry some patients will increasingly use drugs alone indoors during the colder months because they don’t have sufficient access to harm-reduction services, such as supervised-consumption sites, in remote communities.

“I’d be really concerned, as the weather changes, that there won’t be the appropriate safeguards in place for people,” he said.

Joe Acker, director of patient care delivery for the B.C. Ambulance Service, said paramedics don’t know whether they’ll see the same surge in overdoses this fall but are certain they’ll remain busy. 

The rate of calls mostly depends on new, toxic substances flooding the street-drug supply and is not necessarily linked to people using alone indoors during bad weather, he said.

“It’s a hard thing to generalize,” Acker said. “We just don’t know what to expect.”

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