Vancouver sees alarming trend with steady increase in overdose deaths

Gregor Robertson
Photo by Chandra Bodalia

OVERDOSE deaths in Vancouver are on the rise once again with alarming data that shows an increase in deaths monthly since October. January 2018 saw the highest number of overdose deaths in the city since May of last year with 33 recorded overdose deaths, as reported by the BC Coroners Service.
Additionally, the BC Coroners Service reported last week that 365 people died of an illicit drug overdose in Vancouver in 2017, that’s one death a day for the entire year.
“We are witnessing a horrific and preventable loss of life as a poisoned drug supply continues to kill our neighbours, friends, and family,” said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. “Volunteers and first responders are working around the clock to keep people alive, but lives are on the line and more action is urgently needed. We will keep pushing for bold solutions, and that includes breaking down the stigma that leads people to use drugs alone at home, addressing access to a clean supply through drug testing equipment, and dramatically improving a range of treatment options like opioid substitution therapy.”
Throughout the crisis, the City has repeatedly called for the expansion of evidence-based treatments, including injectable options for those most at risk for overdose. Last week, the federal government announced $150 million in emergency funding <> to improve access to treatment across the county. The City hopes to see this funding implemented as quickly as possible in order to save lives, said Robertson.
The crisis continues to put enormous pressure on first responders and community services. While calls to first responders are down from 2017, Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services continue to see high call volumes for overdose response, averaging 100 calls a week so far this year. Community organizations continue to have a positive impact on the crisis, and no one has died of an overdose at an overdose prevention site.
The City said that while it is encouraged by the recent actions from the provincial and federal governments, further action is needed to end this public health emergency. Recommended actions include:
* Convene a multi-sectoral task force to implement immediate decriminalization of personal possession of illicit drugs
* Rapidly roll out funding for evidence-based treatment programs
* Support the scale up of innovative programs that provide access to safe opioids for those most at risk for overdose
* Support the de-stigmatization programs that are co-led by people with lived experience of substance use
* Continue to roll out innovative overdose prevention services in areas where users remain isolated.

Read the BC Coroners Services’ report on Illicit Drug Overdose Deaths in BC, January 1 to 31, 2018, here