Vancouver sees worst week of overdose deaths in 2018

11 people died of a suspected overdose death between July 23 and 29


Gregor Robertson
Photo by Chandra Bodalia

LAST week, 11 people lost their lives to suspected overdose deaths in the City of Vancouver. This represents the worst week on record for 2018, as reported by the Vancouver Police Department (VPD). The data shows the crisis continues to impact Vancouver at alarming rates, despite BC Coroners Service reporting on Thursday a declining trend in overdose deaths between April and June 2018.

In 2018 so far, 206 Vancouver residents have lost their lives to a suspected overdose. In 2017, the number stood at 366 – one death every day across the city.

“Last week’s death count is simply ghastly: 11 people died due to suspected overdoses. Tragically, this marks Vancouver’s worst week for overdose deaths so far this year,” said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. “While the latest report from the BC Coroners shows that the number of suspected overdose deaths across the province decreased slightly in June, we don’t see signs that we’ve turned a corner on this public health disaster in Vancouver. A poisoned supply of street drugs continues to kill our loved ones and devastate families across our city. Lives are on the line— people need access to safe prescription drugs rather than being forced to turn to the deadly drugs from organized crime on our streets.”

Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services (VFRS) is also reporting a surge in overdose response calls for the week of July 23. VFRS responded to 147 calls last week, 47 per cent higher than the previous week, and 24 per cent higher than the weekly average for 2017.

Front line workers are suspecting the increase in overdoses and related deaths are due to a high toxicity in street drugs. The City continues to advocate for more and expanded programs that provide access to drug checking and a clean drug supply, recently providing $60k of funding to the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) to purchase an FTIR spectrometer to support drug checking pilot initiatives.

Other initiatives supporting a response to the public health emergency include providing $1.9 million in funding to VFRS for an additional three-person medic unit in the DTES to support a rapid response to overdoses, and investing $1.02 million in a range of high impact community projects from anti-stigma programs to promote access to services and recommended strategies to the federal government to urgently address toxic drug supplies.

The City also funds a range of projects with organizations responding to the crisis including Megaphone, the Metro Vancouver Aboriginal Executive Council, RainCity Housing and Support Society and PHS Community Services Society.

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 reported that 365 people died of an illicit drug overdose in Vancouver in 2017, that’s one death a day for the entire year.

Read the BC Coroners Services’ report on Illicit Drug Overdose Deaths in BC, January 1, 2008 to June 30, 2018 here.