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2020 worst year ever for B.C. overdose deaths

Last Updated Feb 11, 2021 at 6:29 pm PST

Summary

B.C. sees a near 75 per cent jump in annual overdose deaths

Illicit fentanyl killed more B.C. than crashes, homicides, suicides, prescription drug-related deaths combined

B.C.'s chief coroner says urgent change needed to prevent future deaths and grief

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The pandemic has pushed the number of overdose deaths in B.C. to a new record.

A report from Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe finds there were 1,760 deaths due to opioids in 2020 — a 74 per cent jump from 2019 — with illicit fentanyl killing more people in B.C. than crashes, homicides, suicides, and prescription drug-related deaths combined.

“In April of this year, B.C. will have been in a toxic drug public health emergency for five years. In that time, we will have lost almost 7,000 people to toxic drugs,” she said.

Lisa LaPointe says points to the pandemic as a major factor in the jump in numbers.

“With the pandemic, access to harm reduction measures was reduced. People self-isolated and the harms associated with the illicit drug market returned with a vengeance,” she said.

There have been about 7,000 deaths in the province in five years.

Leslie McBain with Moms Stop the Harm has been fighting for change and says the federal and provincial governments are just inching along.

“The response to drug overdose, to drug deaths from toxic supply, has been sketchy. It has great, huge gaps in it. It has not been attended to the way it needs to be done,” she said.

She wants to see a solid plan that includes oversight of treatment like there is for long-term care, consistent safe supply, and a concerted effort to combat the stigma she says is the single biggest barrier for people who need help.

 

“Still, in this province, for-profit organizations can establish treatment centres and there are no meaningful standards,” LaPointe said.

“That needs to change. There needs to be, as Leslie [McBain] pointed out, a meaningful evidence-based system of recovery so that when people go to their family doctor — first, their family doctor will treat them and not dismiss them as a patient because they don’t want to deal with that issue. But there is [also] a clear pathway, so that when people knock on the door, pick up the phone and say ‘I need help,’ they get help and they get it right away,” she said.

LaPointe says seeing the numbers is enough to make you want to throw your hands up and say “what’s the use.”

“But of course, we can’t do that. These people deserve a voice. As coroners, we speak for the dead.”

She says it’s still unknown how many British Columbians have accessed treatment and recovery services, whether they’ve been successful, or the definition of success.

“None of that exists. So, some really basic, fundamental … what services are available, what services would be ideal, what’s the gap and how do we fix it?”

Most overdose deaths last year happened in private residences and the victims were usually men.

LaPointe says it’s clear that urgent change is needed to prevent future deaths and grief. She recommends essential harm reduction measures continue to be available and be made more accessible.

Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria saw the highest number of overdose deaths in B.C. last year.