335 overdose deaths in Vancouver last year

Gregor Robertson
Photo by Chandra Bodalia

STAGGERING year-end data for 2017 shows an estimated 335 overdose deaths in Vancouver, compared to 234 in 2016, and 6,234 overdose calls, compared to 4,709 in 2016.

City of Vancouver staff and Fire Chief Darrell Reid on Wednesday presented an update to Vancouver City Council on data from the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) and Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services (VFRS) on the continued effects of the overdose crisis on Vancouver.

Dr. Patricia Daly, Vice President, Public Health and Chief Medical Health Officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, and Dr. Mark Tyndall, Executive Director of the BC Centre on Disease Control, also presented on key health initiatives to address the overdose crisis in 2018.

“Last year saw an unprecedented overdose death toll in Vancouver,” said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. “The magnitude of tragic deaths due to the opioid crisis is horrific and is putting an unbearable strain on our emergency responders, front-line workers and community volunteers, who are working around the clock to save lives. The City of Vancouver has been pouring in resources and has established itself as a national leader with its municipal overdose response, and we appreciate that the new BC Government has taken significant steps to address this crisis. While the number of deaths is far too high, we are seeing some positive trends emerge with a significant drop in the second half of the year compared to the first. We will continue to tackle the opioid epidemic head-on, and hope that all three levels of government can turn the tide and end these preventable deaths.”

The estimated deaths in 2017 are 43 per cent higher than the total deaths in 2016. On average, six people died from overdoses each week in Vancouver throughout 2017. VRFS have responded to an average of 119 calls every week, putting continued strain on first responders working to save lives on the front lines.

However, based on a month by month analysis, overdose deaths have dropped significantly in Q3 and Q4 2017 from the record high of 49 deaths in January 2017. Compared to the first half of the year, monthly overdose deaths are down roughly 40 to 50 per cent.

Throughout the crisis, the City has repeatedly called for innovative programs that respond to immediate community needs. The new Overdose Emergency Response Centre<http://www.theprovince.com/health/overdose+emergency+response+centre+vancouver+combat/16037257/story.html> funded by the Province will help build this locally-driven response and the recently-announced, Health Canada-approved pilot to distribute oral hydromorphone<http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/dilaudid-vending-machine-solution-opioid-overdose-tyndall-1.4458358> will also help save lives. The City hopes to see these initiatives and others like it scaled-up throughout 2018.

Toxicology reports on the most recent deaths are not yet complete and final overdose death numbers need to be confirmed by the BC Coroners Service.

The BC Coroners Service expects to report out on the total number of suspected illicit drug overdose deaths for 2017 by the end of the month. Initial analysis of data compiled through the expanded Drug Death Investigations Team protocol is also expected later this year.

Read the BC Coroners Services’ report on Illicit Drug Overdose Deaths in BC, January 1, 2007 to October 2017 here<http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/death-investigation/statistical/illicit-drug.pdf>.