Drug overdose crisis: One year later, 919 more deaths

published on April 16, 2017 by Sarah Petrescu in Times Colonist

It’s been a year since provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall declared the spike in overdose deaths a public health emergency.

But despite major efforts and resources, there is no end in sight.

“I had hoped for a different outcome,” Kendall said. “Tragically, in that 12-month period, we have seen an additional 919 deaths.”

A total of 922 people died from illicit drug-related overdoses in B.C. last year, compared with 513 in 2015 and 366 in 2014. This year could be even worse: In January and February alone, 219 people died.

Moving forward

Next on the horizon could be prescription heroin, or the more readily available hydromorphone, Stanwick said.

“That would be recognizing there’s a small proportion for whom opioid substitution therapy doesn’t work,” he said.

Katrina Jensen, executive director at AIDS Vancouver Island on Johnson Street, said increasing access to services and looking at the impacts of drug prohibition on people is key to moving forward.

“Looking at our concepts of treatment and other options that are out there are important,” she said. “We need to be listening to people with lived experience and their families as well.”

The non-profit organization has been at the forefront of harm reduction in Victoria, distributing safe drug-use supplies for years. It now has an overdose-prevention site and counsellor.

“We are inundated with requests for supports,” she said.

Major investments in research could also lead to changes in policy and action, advocates say.

More than $14 million in provincial and private funding established the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, which will focus on education, training and clinical care research around addictions.

The Centre for Addictions Research B.C. is conducting a study on the overdose prevention sites in Victoria. Results will be released in May.

And the new drug investigation team formed by the B.C. coroners office to review all illicit drug overdose deaths will release its findings in the fall.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said the team was created to “see if we could find any important patterns related to these deaths.”

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