WATCH: VPD and civic leaders hold press conference on drug overdose deaths
Vancouver Police say there were nine fatal overdoses in the city overnight, eight of them in the Downtown Eastside.
VPD Chief Adam Palmer delivered the grim statistic at a press conference with Mayor Gregor Robertson and Fire Chief John McKearny.
He says the force is investigating more overdose deaths than ever – for comparison, it dealt with just 11 homicides and 15 fatal motor vehicle accidents all year.
Palmer says there’s too large of a gap for drug users between overdose and detox treatment, and is calling for treatment on demand.
He cites a veteran officer who sought treatment for a heroin user in the Downtown Eastside.
“She began looking for a detox facility, however there was nothing available. Officer Malcolm was told that space would not be available for nine days. Nine days. You lose the window to help within hours. Nine days is an eternity,” he said.
McKearny says his crews are on track to hit 1,600 overdose calls for the year.
He says that frantic pace is taking a toll on his members, and the department has had to take steps to deal with occupational stress.
“This is devastating. We’ve seen an increase just in November alone to over 750 overdoses. Between December 1st and December 14th, Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services has responded to over 352 overdoses,” he said.
Mayor Robertson is echoing Palmer’s call for more treatment options, blaming a provincial deficiency in treatment for drug users for the deaths.
“The amount of treatment that’s available to people suffering from severe addictions is totally inadequate,” he said.
He says he’s having trouble seeing a silver lining in today’s numbers.
Earlier this week, Council introduced a 0.5% property tax hike to try and fight the crisis, but Roberson says it’s a stopgap measure.
The BC Coroners Service is also issuing a drug-death warning in the wake of the overdoses.
It says on top of the deaths reported in the Vancouver, four other people died yesterday from drug overdoses, one elsewhere in Vancouver, one in Burnaby, two in the Fraser Region and one in northern B.C.
It says anyone who must use illicit drugs should do so in the presence of Naloxone and medical help.
It says the next batch of numbers on overdose deaths for November will be released Monday.
NDP MLA and public safety critic Mike Farnworth says more addiction beds are critical to battle the overdose crisis.
Farnworth says the crisis will continue if better rehab support is not offered.
“It’s horrific. It’s terrible and it speaks to the need that, yes, there are the safe consumption sites and there’s the pop-up sites but the reality is we also need to have addiction and treatment beds and they’re not there and they need to be there,” he said.
But Premier Christy Clark says no one saw the fentanyl crisis coming.
Speaking to Lynda Steele for her annual year in review interview, Clark insists everything that can be done by the provincial government is being done.
“We’ve had an opioid death rate sadly of about 250 people a year for most of the last five or ten years. It’s just now we’re close to 700. We are in crisis mode and we’re throwing everything we can at this,” she said.
You can listen to the full interview on Monday on CKNW and CKNW.com.
With files from Matt Lee