Supplies like clean needles are available at the Overdose Prevention Society’s safe-injection site. (The Washington Post John Lehmann)

Supplies like clean needles are available at the Overdose Prevention Society’s safe-injection site. (The Washington Post John Lehmann)

With 1,716 deaths, 2020 deadliest year of overdose crisis in B.C. history

Pandemic exacerbated ongoing dire state of opioid crisis in B.C.

A devastating 1,716 British Columbians died from illicit drug overdoses in 2020, marking the deadliest year of the ongoing crisis in the province’s history.

The latest statistics, released by the BC Coroner Service on Thursday (Feb. 11), equates to roughly five fatal overdoses a day.

“The impacts of COVID-19 highlighted the immensely precarious situation of those experiencing problematic substance use in our province,” chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said during a news conference.

“It’s clear that urgent change is needed to prevent future deaths and the resulting grief and loss so many families and communities have experienced across our province.”

With the backdrop of a global pandemic, advocates have voiced concern that social restrictions and fear of transmission has worsened the mental health of many, as well as cause barriers to accessing resources and harm reduction.

It has also allowed for an increase in the toxicity of street-level drugs.

Overdose deaths by city
Infogram

In mid-January, BC Emergency Health Services announced that paramedics responded to a record-breaking number of overdose calls – up 12 per cent from 2019 and averaging out to 75 calls each day. Most notable, smaller communities saw the larges spikes in calls, highlighting the rural reach of the drug trade.

‘LIKE AN ATM’: World’s first biometric opioid-dispensing machine launches in B.C.

Vancouver, Victoria and Surrey have seen the lion’s share of deaths since at least 2016, when former provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall declared B.C.’s first ever health emergency in response to a spike in overdoses – fuelled by the emergence of illicit forms of the powerful opioid fentanyl.

READ MORE: Treat opioid addiction as a chronic disease, says B.C. addictions expert

Since then, the province has rolled out a number of harm reduction tools, such as awareness campaigns to not use alone, free access to naloxone kits and training and free fentanyl test strips.

Since 2016 not a single overdose death has been reported at an overdose prevention site or safe consumption facility.

Meanwhile, a chorus of experts and leaders have called for the federal government to decriminalize hard drugs and roll out a safe supply – including Lapointe, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, former addictions minister Judy Darcy and B.C. Centre on Substance Use head Dr. Evan Wood.

In 2019, the association that represents police chiefs across Canada also called for decriminalization of simple possession. Premier John Horgan has also wrote letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, requesting Health Canada to approve and allow the province power to take necessary steps.

So far, Trudeau has not entertained the idea on a national level.

Sheila Malcolmson, minister of mental health and addictions, said Thursday the province wants to see a national approach to decriminalization, but failing that, she has asked federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu to consider a provincial exemption that would allow small amounts of drug posession for personal use.

Decriminalization is a vital step toward saving lives because it helps reduce stigma as a barrier for treatment, she said.

“Whether it’s Canada-wide or in B.C., it is in the federal government’s power to act,” she said at a news conference Thursday.

READ MORE: Sell regulated heroin to curb B.C.’s overdose problem: report

READ MORE: A look at the only clinic in Canada to offer medical-grade heroin

READ MORE: B.C. launches new drug-checking program, expands fentanyl testing

READ MORE: Should B.C. nix ‘Welfare Wednesday’ and stagger income assistance cheques?


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

BC governmentoverdose crisis

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Purcell Preschool students. Submitted
Pink Shirt Day at Purcell Preschool

Students at Purcell Preschool in Kimberley are making friends and being friends… Continue reading

The property at 323 Banks Street will be developed into three units. Carolyn Grant photo
Development permit sought for 323 Banks Street, Kimberley

Kimberley residents, especially those in Lower Blarchmont, will be pleased to learn… Continue reading

The city of Kimberley hopes to open the aquatic centre by summer. Bulletin file
City of Kimberley hopes to open aquatic centre by summer

Renovations to building must be completed first

Castlegar’s Gabrielle Herle (right) will be one of the speakers at the conference. She is seen here with Wendy Gaskill from Chinook Scaffolding accepting their Contractor of the Year Award in 2019 from the Builders Code Champion Awards. Photo: Submitted
Girls in STEAM and Leadership Conference offered free for all girls in the Kootenay Boundary

Virtual conference for girls in grades 8 to 12 will be taking place on March 8

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

Photograph By @KAYLAXANDERSON
VIDEO: Lynx grabs lunch in Kamloops

A lynx surprises a group of ducks and picks one off for lunch

(Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. residents can reserve provincial camp sites starting March 8

B.C. residents get priority access to camping reservations in province

Two women were arrested in Nanaimo for refusing to wear masks and causing disturbance on a BC Ferries vessel. (File photo)
B.C. ferry passengers arrested and fined for disturbance, refusing to wear masks

Police said woman threatened their pensions in Feb. 21 incident aboard Nanaimo-bound boat

When his owner had knee surgery, Kevin, 2, was able to continue to go for walks thanks to volunteers from Elder Dog Canada. (Contributed photo)
B.C. woman has nothing but praise for Elder Dog Canada

National organization has a fleet of volunteer walkers ready, but needs more clients to serve

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Winlaw artist Lou Lynn is one of eight Canadians to win a Governor General's award this year. Photo: Janet Dwyer
Kootenay artist Lou Lynn wins Governor General’s award

Lynn is among eight artists honoured throughout Canada

Justin Morissette is still recovering from the injuries sustained in the altercation. He is not yet able to walk without assistance. (Justin Morissette, Twitter)
B.C. man suing city and police over violent altercation with anti-LGBTQ preacher

Justin Morissette argues police knew the threat the preacher posed, and failed to keep the peace

Jack Barnes, who was Cowichan Valley Capitals property from May 2020 until last week, scores a goal for the Penticton Vees during the 2019-20 BCHL season. (Brennan Phillips/Black Press)
COVID-crunched BCHL facing trade deadline dilemma with its 20-year-olds

Hard decisions loom when BCHL may or may not resume play

Most Read