Drug overdose deaths are a mounting problem throughout the province.

Drug overdose deaths are a mounting problem throughout the province.

Drug overdose deaths soaring

The total number of drug overdose deaths in the first nine months of this year exceed all the overdose deaths for 2015.

Statistics released by the BC Coroner’s Service reveal that the number of deaths province-wide from the use of illicit drugs in the first nine months of 2016 have exceeded the number for all of last year.

Between January and September of this year, 555 people in B.C. died from illicit drug overdoses, exceeding the 508 people who died from drug overdoses in B.C. in 2015. Fentanyl, a powerful opioid, was detected in 61 per cent of drug overdoses so far this year; triple the 2015 rate.

The top cities where overdose deaths have occurred are Vancouver (110), Surrey (71), Victoria (44), Kelowna (31), Abbotsford (26), and Kamloops (25).

The province declared the increase in overdose deaths a public health emergency in April. A dedicated task force to examine ways to combat the crisis was formed in July.

Many first responders, including all RCMP officers and ambulance personnel, now carry naloxone, and earlier this month regulations were amended to enable all health care professionals and first responders to administer naloxone outside of a hospital setting. The amendments also allow members of the public to administer naloxone, so that people who work in a setting where drug overdoses are more likely to happen are able to help.

Naloxone—which can be injected or given as a nasal spray—reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, buying time until the patient can receive more extensive medical treatment. The drug is now available to purchase, without a prescription, throughout the province, and the Take Home Naloxone program offers the drug at no charge to people who might be at risk of an opioid overdose. Almost 15,000 kits have been distributed, and they are credited with reversing more than 2,000 opioid overdoses.

A recent case where a first responder carrying naloxone saved someone’s life occurred in Surrey on October 21. A police officer arriving at the Surrey RCMP’s main detachment was told by a driver that his passenger was overdosing. Officers administered two canisters of naloxone, to which the man responded.

“This incident serves as another example of how important it is that all first responders are properly equipped with life-saving equipment during the current opioid crisis,” says Surrey RCMP sergeant Alanna Dunlop.

“It is only fitting that the officer who administered the naloxone is the detachment’s drug subject matter expert, and championed the effort to have all RCMP officers equipped with naloxone.”

The provincial government announced $5 million in funding in September to stop the spread of opioid overdoses, and another $5 million to establish the BC Centre on Substance Abuse.

Among the strategies aimed at reducing drug overdoses and deaths are blocking fentanyl production and distribution; increasing the number of harm reduction options; fostering greater public awareness of, and education about, the issue; and increasing the number of addiction recovery beds.