News / Vancouver

B.C. overdose deaths drop in January – but not by much

Coroner Lisa Lapointe is calling for prescription heroine to be offered for those who have not been successful at other treatments for opioid addiction

A man prepares to inject heroin at an overdose prevention site in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in December. While overdose deaths have skyrocketed in B.C., so far no deaths have occured at the sites, where volunteers can provide first aid in case of an overdose

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

A man prepares to inject heroin at an overdose prevention site in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in December. While overdose deaths have skyrocketed in B.C., so far no deaths have occured at the sites, where volunteers can provide first aid in case of an overdose

B.C.’s illicit drug death numbers finally dropped slightly after steadily rising over the past few months, reaching a record high of 142 deaths in December.

But the 116 deaths reported in January by B.C.’s coroner today are still shockingly high: it’s an average of more than seven deaths every two days. In 2016, a total of 914 people died of overdoses.

The majority of the deaths were men between the ages of 30 and 49 years; 90 per cent of the deaths happened indoors. None of the deaths so far, including January’s count, have happened as a supervised drug injection site.

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Coroner Lisa Lapointe said the evidence is increasingly pointing to the need to expand the number of people who can access prescription heroin. Currently, around 150 people who were part of medical trials at Vancouver’s Crosstown Clinic get regular treatment, but the program has not been expanded.

Many of the people who died are drug-dependent and have not been successful when they have tried other treatments.

“For these people, I think we would be wise to seriously consider the carefully considered suggestion made by provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall – the possibility of providing clean, medical-grade heroin to that small subset of users for whom nothing else has worked,” said Lapointe.

British Columbia has been dealing with a surge in drug overdoses as the illicit drug supply has increasingly become tainted with the powerful synthetic opioids fentanyl and carfentanil.

The province today announced it had signed a health agreement with Ottawa which included around $75 million, spread out over several years, for response to the opioid crisis. So far the province has responded to the crisis by expanding access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone. In December 2016 the province created several overdose prevention centres, which have grown in number since then and expanded across B.C., where people can use drugs in the presence of volunteers trained in first aid.

With files from The Canadian Press