As B.C. comes off the heels of the fifth anniversary of toxic drug overdoses being declared a public health emergency, Vancouver Island is facing possibly its worst point in the crisis to date.
That’s according to Dr. Sandra Allison, one of the Island’s medical health officers.
“Provincially, we are seeing some of our highest numbers ever. I think across the province, everyone is concerned,” she said during a Thursday video conference with media. “Island Health is experiencing some of their highest numbers ever, so we quite possibly could be the worst point ever.”
Island Health has issued a string of overdose advisories for communities across the Island over the last two weeks. Allison said it was an Island-wide response even though most of the advisories were for mid- and south-Island communities.
Allison said overdose advisories are issued after they review data from their community overdose reporting system, ambulance response and emergency room numbers, overdose prevention services and coroner’s reports.
“This week marks another week of worrisome indicators that we watch for as medical health officers,” Allison said.
When asked if any drugs in particular are causing the recent overdoses, the medical health officer pointed to coroner’s reports that show fentanyl and its analogues (similar drugs) were found in 80 per cent of last year’s illicit toxic drug deaths.
“We are seeing high levels of these analogues of fentanyl, as well as high levels of strong benzodiazepines in the street supply,” she said.
The toxic drug supply, the level of despair in the community and stigma are contributing factors to the increase in overdoses.
“We have to have a better understanding about why people have these behaviors and be accepting of them so people don’t (use substances) in shame and in stigma and all alone – and that’s where they’re dying,” the medical health officer said.
Island Health is currently seeing higher numbers of deaths among men and people using substances alone.
“We really just want to remind people that they should not be using alone, that they should know their drug supply and we know that people are using illicit drugs and people use substances for many different reasons,” Allison said. “Medical health officers across the province and across the country are strongly in support of a safe supply because we believe that it’s an unsafe, toxic drug supply that’s killing people.”