Supplies like clean needles are available at the Overdose Prevention Society’s safe-injection site. (The Washington Post John Lehmann)

Supplies like clean needles are available at the Overdose Prevention Society’s safe-injection site. (The Washington Post John Lehmann)

With 1,716 deaths, 2020 deadliest year of overdose crisis in B.C. history

Pandemic exacerbated ongoing dire state of opioid crisis in B.C.

A devastating 1,716 British Columbians died from illicit drug overdoses in 2020, marking the deadliest year of the ongoing crisis in the province’s history.

The latest statistics, released by the BC Coroner Service on Thursday (Feb. 11), equates to roughly five fatal overdoses a day.

“The impacts of COVID-19 highlighted the immensely precarious situation of those experiencing problematic substance use in our province,” chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said during a news conference.

“It’s clear that urgent change is needed to prevent future deaths and the resulting grief and loss so many families and communities have experienced across our province.”

With the backdrop of a global pandemic, advocates have voiced concern that social restrictions and fear of transmission has worsened the mental health of many, as well as cause barriers to accessing resources and harm reduction.

It has also allowed for an increase in the toxicity of street-level drugs.

Overdose deaths by city
Infogram

In mid-January, BC Emergency Health Services announced that paramedics responded to a record-breaking number of overdose calls – up 12 per cent from 2019 and averaging out to 75 calls each day. Most notable, smaller communities saw the larges spikes in calls, highlighting the rural reach of the drug trade.

‘LIKE AN ATM’: World’s first biometric opioid-dispensing machine launches in B.C.

Vancouver, Victoria and Surrey have seen the lion’s share of deaths since at least 2016, when former provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall declared B.C.’s first ever health emergency in response to a spike in overdoses – fuelled by the emergence of illicit forms of the powerful opioid fentanyl.

READ MORE: Treat opioid addiction as a chronic disease, says B.C. addictions expert

Since then, the province has rolled out a number of harm reduction tools, such as awareness campaigns to not use alone, free access to naloxone kits and training and free fentanyl test strips.

Since 2016 not a single overdose death has been reported at an overdose prevention site or safe consumption facility.

Meanwhile, a chorus of experts and leaders have called for the federal government to decriminalize hard drugs and roll out a safe supply – including Lapointe, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, former addictions minister Judy Darcy and B.C. Centre on Substance Use head Dr. Evan Wood.

In 2019, the association that represents police chiefs across Canada also called for decriminalization of simple possession. Premier John Horgan has also wrote letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, requesting Health Canada to approve and allow the province power to take necessary steps.

So far, Trudeau has not entertained the idea on a national level.

Sheila Malcolmson, minister of mental health and addictions, said Thursday the province wants to see a national approach to decriminalization, but failing that, she has asked federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu to consider a provincial exemption that would allow small amounts of drug posession for personal use.

Decriminalization is a vital step toward saving lives because it helps reduce stigma as a barrier for treatment, she said.

“Whether it’s Canada-wide or in B.C., it is in the federal government’s power to act,” she said at a news conference Thursday.

READ MORE: Sell regulated heroin to curb B.C.’s overdose problem: report

READ MORE: A look at the only clinic in Canada to offer medical-grade heroin

READ MORE: B.C. launches new drug-checking program, expands fentanyl testing

READ MORE: Should B.C. nix ‘Welfare Wednesday’ and stagger income assistance cheques?


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

BC governmentoverdose crisis

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

Just Posted

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
43 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

368 cases in the region remain active

Midway’s Boundary Expo Recreation Centre (above) is a mainstay of the local community and the Boundary area more broadly, according to Village officials. Photo: Submitted
West Boundary arena to get equipment overhaul thanks to provincial grant

The funds are being put toward new refrigeration equipment at Midway’s Boundary Expo Rec. Centre

A member of the Avalanche Canada South Rockies field team gathers important snowpack data that is used to produce daily avalanche forecasts for the region. Photo by Jennifer Coulter.
Warming temperatures increase avalanche risk heading into the weekend

Warm temperatures impact conditions, human behaviour

The City of Grand Forks is named as a defendant in a lawsuit by former Grand Forks Fire/Rescue volunteer, Leslie Cleverly. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
City of Grand Forks responds to lawsuit by former city firefighter

The City’s lawyers roundly denied allegations made by the plaintiff, Leslie Cleverly

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Interior Health reports 16 new COVID-19 cases

423 cases remain active in the region

Third-grader Hudson Adrian (left) on Wednesday, Feb. 24, poses with fourth-graders Josh Hlookoff (centre) and Jaylen Dekteroff at Hutton Elementary’s Pink Shirt Day parade. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
WATCH — Grand Forks’ elementaries support Pink Shirt Day

The annual celebration of kindness puts paid to the idea that bullying was ever cool

A recently finished $4.3-million taxiway extension at the Victoria International Airport (not pictured) is unusable because of a blind spot. (Black Press Media file photo)
Blind spot leaves Victoria airport’s new $4.3-million taxiway extension unusable

Solution has been put on hold by COVID-19 pandemic, says airport authority

The City of Vancouver estimates there are 3,500 Canada geese in the city right now, and that number is growing. (Bruce Hogarth)
Help tame Vancouver’s Canada goose population by reporting nests: park officials

The city is asking residents to be on the lookout so staff can remove nests or addle eggs

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

A sample of guns seized at the Pacific Highway border crossing from the U.S. into B.C. in 2014. Guns smuggled from the U.S. are used in criminal activity, often associated with drug gangs. (Canada Border Service Agency)
B.C. moves to seize vehicles transporting illegal firearms

Bill bans sale of imitation or BB guns to young people

BC Housing minister David Eby is concerned that Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter will result in a “tent city” similar to this one in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / Black Press file)
‘Disappointed and baffled’ B.C. housing minister warns of tent city in Penticton

Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter could create tent city, says David Eby

A recently published study out of UBC has found a link between life satisfaction levels and overall health. (Pixabay)
Satisfied with life? It’s likely you’re healthier for it: UBC study

UBC psychologists have found those more satisfied with their life have a 26% reduced risk of dying

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

A vial of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a family doctor office, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021 in Paris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP -Christophe Ena
Trudeau ‘optimistic’ that timeline for rollout of COVID vaccines can be accelerated

Canada set to receive more than 6M COVID-19 vaccine dose than initially expected, by end of March

Most Read