Evan Wood (left) MD, PhD is an addiction medicine physician, a scientist with the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use, and a Canada Research Chair and professor of medicine at UBC. Leslie McBain (right) is the co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm. (Submitted)

OPINION: Charting a new course out of the overdose crisis in B.C.

Regardless of where you look, the number of deaths from overdoses are staggering

It has been more than three years since B.C. declared a public health emergency due to the growing number of drug overdose deaths in the province.

Recently, the tremendous efforts of the affected community, health care providers, and first responders have contributed to a decline in overdose deaths. While this is encouraging, the number of people still accidentally overdosing – and dying – as a result of the toxic drug supply far exceeds other areas of Canada. In fact, deaths due to overdose in B.C. dwarf all other causes of premature mortality such as motor vehicle accidents and suicide.

Last month in Coquitlam, the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) and Shoppers Drug Mart hosted a town hall where we stood up alongside experts and members of the community to discuss these very issues. The event was created with the goal of sparking a conversation in B.C. – and across the country – that can help end this public health crisis.

While much of the emphasis on opioid overdoses has focused on hard-hit areas like Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the BC Coroner’s Service data demonstrate how other areas of the province have also been seriously affected. In the Fraser Valley, for instance, overdose deaths outnumber those in any other region in the province in 2019. Regardless of where you look, the numbers are staggering.

One of the drivers of overdoses is the prevalence of fentanyl and fentanyl-adulterants in the illegal drug supply, with fentanyl being detected in more than 80 per cent of overdose deaths in the province. To date, efforts have focused on responding to and reducing fatal overdoses among those using fentanyl, with some success. We’re better at responding to overdoses when they happen, as recent data from the BC Centre for Disease Control shows.

However, without an equal focus upstream on the fundamental reasons people are overdosing in the first place, we’ll continue to spin our wheels. In addition to providing naloxone and other harm reduction interventions for when overdoses occur, we need to focus on strategies to help individuals get off of fentanyl-laced drugs while also improving the safety of the drug supply that is fueling overdose deaths.

People living with addiction and families who care for them know this better than anyone. They’ve experienced first-hand how ill-equipped the health care system has historically been in delivering evidence-based addiction treatment and care. Establishing a functioning addiction treatment system in B.C. will require a lot more work.

Experts have identified longstanding reasons for the province’s lack of accessible and effective addiction treatment services. For instance, physicians and other health care practitioners receive next to zero training in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of addiction in medical school and residency training programs. Addressing this skill gap is an obvious area for intervention that will lead to better outcomes for people with an addiction.

The urgent need to treat substance use as a health issue, to establish a functioning addiction treatment system, and to address the toxicity of the drug supply by expanding access to pharmaceutical alternatives are themes that emerge again and again in communities across the province.

In Coquitlam, we had the opportunity to hear from members of the community whose lives have been upended by opioids – a reality we’ve both experienced first-hand. The consensus was clear. To see meaningful change, we need to devote more attention to the causes of overdose, not just the effects.

Evan Wood MD, PhD is an addiction medicine physician, a scientist with the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use, and a Canada Research Chair and professor of medicine at UBC. Leslie McBain is the co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

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

Just Posted

Grand Forks residents suing province, logging companies on behalf of 2018 flood victims

Lawsuit alleges B.C’s forest ministry and logging companies contributed significantly to devastating freshet

Two men killed in Hwy 3 collision west of Castlegar

The single-vehicle incident happened Thursday morning

March to protect old growth, stop industrial logging coming to B.C. Legislature

Organizers say they want to give frontline communities a bigger say in nearby logging

Health ministry to hire 33 new practitioners for Kootenay Boundary

Over 15,000 people in the region don’t have access to a primary care provider

How a Grand Forks woman and her family came to live at Bare Ass Beach

Ongoing drama at a section of Grandby riverfront that doubles as a nudist beach

Record-breaking 165 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in B.C. in 24-hour period

Fifty-seven people are in hospital battling the novel coronavirus

Interior Health reports four new cases of COVID-19

First hospitalization since mid-August announced

B.C. releases details of $1.5B economic recovery plan, $660M in business tax incentives

Economic plan includes support for employers, as well as training for workers

‘Not criminally responsible’ hearing slated for man convicted of Abbotsford school stabbing

Gabriel Klein was found guilty in March of killing Letisha Reimer, 13, in 2016

Conservation groups blast province for logging in caribou habitat near Revelstoke

In the last year, 104 cuts have been approved near Revelstoke in caribou habitat

B.C.’s 1st mental health and addictions minister won’t be seeking re-election

MLA Judy Darcy is the fifth cabinet minister not intending to run in the next election

Vancouver’s shuttered aquarium searching for financial solution amid pandemic

The aquarium needs about $1 million a month to cover its costs

Most Read