Calling the climbing number of drug overdose deaths a public health emergency, B.C. is taking unprecedented steps to tackle the problem.
It’s the first time a province has done it.
But B.C. says the number of drug-related overdose deaths is a crisis.
Health Minister Terry Lake says Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall made the emergency declaration.
“This will allow medical health officers to obtain detailed information on the circumstances on overdoses. Information that isn’t currently available in real time.”
“All the experts agree that what’s needed, critically, is real time information in the hands of public health officials. And to do this, for the first time ever, provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall is exercising emergency powers provided him under the public health act.”
Lake says the data allows officials to proactively target areas where they see a pattern of overdoses.
So, how bad is the problem in B.C.?
Last year, there were 474 drug overdose deaths in the province.
Kendall says that’s a 30% increase from the year before, and it’s getting worse.
“In the first three months of this year alone, the Coroner’s Office reported over 200 deaths. At this rate, the total for 2016 could exceed 700 or even 800.”
Of those deaths, there’s been an increase in the number where fentanyl was detected.
In 2012, fentanyl was found in 5 per cent of people who died from an overdose.
Last year, that number climbed to 31 per cent.
Backing from B.C. Coroners Service
B.C.’s Chief Coroner says she’s happy to see the province take steps to combat overdose deaths.
In a statement, Lisa Lapointe says the BC Coroners Service will continue to send information, including results of toxicology tests, in a timely manner.
It was that services own data that showed a spike in the number of overdose deaths in BC, prompting the province to act.
- 474 apparent illicit drug overdose deaths in 2015, which is a 30 per cent increase in deaths from 2014 (365 deaths)
- 76 deaths in January 2016, which is the largest number of deaths in a single month since at least 2007
- B.C. could see 600 to 800 overdose deaths this year without additional steps to combat overdoses
The increase in the proportion of illicit drug overdose deaths for which fentanyl was detected (alone or in combination with other drugs) :
- 2012 = 5%
- 2013 = 15%
- 2014 = 25%
- 2015 = 31% (approximate – not all investigations are concluded)