Opioid crisis being overlooked in B.C. election as death toll spikes

published on May 6, 2017 by Andrea Woo in The Globe and Mail

Overdose deaths have skyrocketed to unprecedented levels in British Columbia, but the issue has barely factored into the provincial election campaign – and next week’s vote does not appear likely to spur any bold or swift changes to curb the crisis.

Four people die every day from illicit-drug overdoses in B.C. The province recorded an average of 250 such deaths a year since 2000; if first-quarter 2017 trends keep up, the death toll this year could surpass 1,300.

Addictions physician Keith Ahamad said there is “a huge unanswered question around the stimulant market” and that officials need to think outside the box to address the issue of drug supply. The prescription-heroin program, while an effective last-resort treatment, only caters to heroin/opioid users.

Users of stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine are particularly susceptible to fentanyl overdoses because they may not have built up a tolerance for opioids. A review of illicit drug overdose deaths in 2015 and 2016 found that cocaine was detected in nearly half.

“Prescribing cocaine would be a very interesting thing to at least study,” Dr. Ahamad said.

Health officials have also called for drug decriminalization, which would steer drug users toward treatment rather than jail. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, said it would also reduce the stigma of drug use. About 90 per cent of illicit-drug overdoses are happening indoors, mostly in private residences.

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