News / Vancouver

B.C.'s April overdose deaths the second highest on record

The NDP and Greens have promised to invest in treatment-on-demand, drug substitution, early-warning monitoring systems, and a coordinated response.

A mural in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside warns of the danger posed by fentanyl.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

A mural in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside warns of the danger posed by fentanyl.

B.C.’s overdose deaths in April where the second highest ever recorded: 136 people lost their lives after overdosing, a number nearly double the 69 fatalities recorded in April 2016.

The only other month where more people died was in December 2016, when 144 fatalities occurred as carfentanil, a vastly more potent form of the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, started to appear on B.C. streets. April’s numbers mean that every day, 4.5 British Columbians are dying from drug overdoses. Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria had the most deaths, but the crisis has affected every corner of the province and rural areas have also been affected.

B.C.’s illicit drug supply has become contaminated with fentanyl and carfentanil, which the BC Coroners Service says is the main reason behind the spike in deaths. So far this year, 488 people have died of overdoses, meaning the death toll could reach 1,464 by the end of 2017 if the trend remains the same. In 2016, 935 people died of overdoses.

Efforts to combat the overdose epidemic have not succeeded in bringing the numbers down. B.C.’s chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, continues to emphasize that no deaths have occurred at Vancouver’s two supervised injection sites at Insite and the Dr. Peter Centre, and no deaths have occurred at several overdose prevention sites throughout the province.

“I strongly urge those using illicit drugs to do so only at a safe consumption site or drug overdose prevention site, if one is accessible,” said Lapointe in a press release. “If one of these sites is not accessible, please use only a small amount of the drug initially and only in the presence of someone willing and able to administer naloxone and call 911 if required. The risks associated with all illicit drugs in the province are extreme, and access to emergency medical assistance is essential to prevent fatal consequences.”

Last week the Vancouver Police Department released a report that called for more addictions treatment services available on demand, saying this is an area of the health care system that has been sorely neglected. The VPD also said it supports expansion of prescription heroin programs, which the provincial and federal government have so far been reluctant to support.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities echoed the VPD’s recommendations in a subsequent call for action.

Under the new agreement between the BC NDP and BC Greens, which will likely lead to those parties forming government when the legislature is recalled, a new ministry for mental health and addictions will be created. The agreement promises to: “ensure that the Ministry has sufficient funding to provide frontline services, including funding for early intervention, youth mental health initiatives, supervised injection sites, and community-based centres for mental health and rehabilitation (and) develop an immediate response to the fentanyl crisis based on successful programs that invest in treatment-on-demand, drug substitution, early-warning monitoring systems, and coordinated response.”

More on