FILE – An organizer displays a naloxone kit that people can pick up for free as International Overdose Awareness Day training seminar takes place at Centennial Square in Victoria, B.C., on Saturday August 31, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

FILE – An organizer displays a naloxone kit that people can pick up for free as International Overdose Awareness Day training seminar takes place at Centennial Square in Victoria, B.C., on Saturday August 31, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Fatal overdoses continue to spike in B.C. as July sees 175 illicit drug deaths

B.C. hits grim milestone of more than 900 deaths in first seven months of 2020

The province recorded 175 fatal overdoses in July, pushing the total deaths from illicit drugs in B.C. to above 900 this year.

July marked the third month in a row where overdose deaths topped 170 and was down just two from a record-breaking month in May, when 177 people died. The province reached a grim milestone of 909 deaths so far in 2020 due to illicit drug overdoses, compared to 618 in the first seven months of 2019.

“The toxicity of drug supply is extreme,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said. Henry and Premier John Horgan have pushed to decriminalize simple possession of prohibited drugs.

READ MORE: B.C. premier asks Trudeau to decriminalize illicit drug possession as deaths climb

According to the B.C. Coroners Service, 5.6 British Columbians died each day due to illicit drug overdoses. In July 2019, 74 people died.

Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe called the deaths “profound and tragic.” Drug overdoses have killed nearly 6,000 people in B.C. The number of people dying of overdoses in the province continues to surpass deaths due to homicides, motor vehicle incidents, suicides and COVID-19 combined, she added.

“We continue to see an increase in death due to extreme fentanyl concentration,” Lapointe said. Fentanyl has been present in 78 per cent of deaths so far in 2020.

“If you are using illicit substances… it is critical you use only in the presence of someone willing and able to inject naloxone.”

Lapointe said that although the overdose crisis can often seem to be a problem of the Downtown Eastside, “every demographic in this province” has been hit by the crisis.

Broken down by health authority, 285 people died in Fraser Health, 254 people in Vancouver Coastal Health, 165 in Island Health, 143 in Interior Health and 62 in Northern Health. However, Northern Health has the highest rate of death at 35.4, with Vancouver Coastal Health at 35.1, Island Health at 33.2, Interior Health at 30.6 and Fraser Health at 25.5.

Henry’s voice broke as she offered condolences to the families and friends of victims of the overdose crisis.

“I implore anybody who is using drugs right now, do not do it alone. You need to have your lifeguard there,” she said.

Henry acknowledged that the measures taken in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic have made drug toxicity worse in B.C. Some supervised consumption sites have shortened their hours due to physical distancing concerns, and overall isolation has increased due to the pandemic.

“The pandemic has uncovered some of the inequities that we have in our society,” she said.

Guy Felicella, peer clinical advisor with the Overdose Emergency Response Centre and BC Centre on Substance Use, had harsh words for the provincial and federal governments.

“W have to save people’s lives and we’re failing miserably in doing that,” Felicella said. “This crisis has been decades in the making.”

Felicella, who has struggled with substance use in the past, said the pandemic response has shown where government priorities lie.

“More people die of a drug overdose than die of COVID,” he said. The virus has killed 203 people so far in B.C, compared to the 909 overdose deaths.

READ MORE: Parallel crises: How COVID-19 has exacerbated the drug overdose emergency

But with the increasing drug toxicity of the supply in B.C., health official said that naloxone is not enough. Paramedics responded to about 2,700 overdose calls in July, more than any other month since the crisis began in 2016.

Jon Deakin, paramedic practice leader with BC Emergency Health Services, said that while naloxone is the first step, bystanders should call 911 right away.

Deakin said 95 per cent of people survive an overdose when treated quickly by a paramedic.

Lapointe said the “shame and stigma” of illicit drug use causes many people to use alone and not head to the province’s supervised consumption sites. No deaths have been reported at those sites.

“There are so many repercussions currently if people become aware that you are experiencing problematic substance use,” she said, adding that the sites should be no more controversial than going to a walk-in doctors clinic.

“Obviously, punishment is not something that is helpful. Shaming people is not something that is helpful.”

The majority of drug overdose deaths happen when people use alone; in July, 85 per cent of fatal incidents took place inside. Of those, 56 per cent were in private residences and 29 per cent were in social and supportive housing, SROs (single room occupancy), shelters, hotels and other indoor locations. The 14 per cent that occured outside happened in vehicles, on streets and in parks.

As has been the case throughout the overdose crisis, the majority of overdose deaths are men under the age of 50. In 2020 so far, 79 per cent of deaths have been men and 68 per cent have been men between the ages of 19 and 49.

READ MORE: Nearly 6 people died from overdoses each day in June as B.C. sees continued spike


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

B.C. overdosesopioidsoverdose crisis

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Interior Health reported 91 new COVID-19 cases in the region Jan. 20, 2021 and three additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
95 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health, two deaths

Another member of Vernon’s Noric House has passed

Voting is the number one, bare minimum way to have your voice heard by government. (File photo)
Jocelyn’s Jottings: Want to make change? Here are some suggestions

As a citizen you have a voice, you just have to know who to talk to

Amanda Parsons, a registered nurse on staff at the Northwood Care facility, administers a dose of the Moderna vaccine to Ann Hicks, 77, in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-Pool
61 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

Twenty-nine people are in hospital, seven of whom are in intensive care

Community mental health workers are in high demand, and a new program at Selkirk College will provide opportunities in this field. File Photo
Selkirk College to train community mental health workers

Twelve students will complete two courses enabling them to work in health and human services

Businesses continue to struggle under COVID-19 restrictions as the pandemic reaches the one-year mark. (B.C. government)
Another 564 COVID-19 cases, mass vaccine plan coming Friday

15 more deaths, community cluster declared in Williams Lake

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
Midway Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Darlene Curylo scratched a $3M ticket, BCLC’s largest ever scratch and win prize. (BCLC)
Kelowna woman in shock after winning BCLC’s largest-ever instant-ticket prize

Darlene Curylo couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the amount of money she’d won from a scratch ticket

While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a UBCO study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers. (Contributed)
Kelowna homeless forced to ‘perform’ for resources, says UBCO study

One participant in the study said ‘It is about looking homeless, but not too homeless’

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette takes the royal salute from the Guard of Honour as she makes her way deliver the the throne speech, Wednesday, September 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns, apologizes for ‘tensions’ at Rideau Hall

Payette, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada, has been the governor general since 2017

Grounded WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircraft are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. WestJet will operate the first commercial Boeing 737 Max flight in Canada today since the aircraft was grounded in 2019 following two deadly crashes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Passengers unfazed as WestJet returns Boeing 737 Max to service on Vancouver flight

After a lengthy review process, Transport Canada cleared the plane to return to Canadian airspace

Most Read