Responding to BC’s Opioid Overdose Epidemic Progress Report
The newly established BC Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions has released an update on the opioid crisis with the October edition of Responding to BC’s Opioid Overdose Epidemic Progress Report. The stats remain grim. While deaths from illegal drugs excluding fentanyl have decreased in 2017, fentanyl related deaths continue to increase, and it’s not just in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. From the update: “BC continues to experience record rates of overdose death in all areas of the province”
Four key areas of focus of the Progress Report include:
- Saving lives (various harm reduction and health care responses);
- Ending the stigma around addiction and mental illness;
- Rebuilding the network of mental health and addiction treatment services; and
- Addressing the full range of supports and social factors (social determinants of individual and community health that are related to substance use).
Overdose Prevention and the Ever-present Challenge of Stigma
Community overdose prevention sites have prevailed over the past year. From December 2016 to September 24, 2017, there have been 405,703 visits to 24 overdose prevention sites with 2,029 overdoses reversed and zero deaths. (p. 4 of the Progress Report).
Yet, sadly, people are dying in record numbers outside of overdose prevention sites. So far this year, 1,103 people have died from an overdose, an increase from 607 at this time in 2016. Illegal fentanyl has been detected in about 81% of drug poisoning deaths to date in 2017 (this info was drawn from the BCCDC on November 13). According to the BCCDC, approximately 75% of overdose calls are transported to hospital, but I have to point that this is only if calls are made. Too many people die alone (Abbotsford lost five citizens in ten hours; all were alone), and part of changing that is changing the stigma that goes along with drug use.
Harm Reduction Through Drug Testing
On Friday November 10, Minster Judy Darcy announced that drug testing using a machine would be piloted in Vancouver so that people could check their drugs before injecting, rather than dealing with a poisoning and reversal. Okanagan resident John McDonald responded to the news. While he’s appreciative the effort is being made, he feels it falls short of where things could be. Distributing safe drug use supplies should be a priority, in his opinion, especially as there are people who use drugs who don’t want to be known as such:
“Don’t get me wrong, the announcement today by the new Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction of a pilot study for a drug testing machine and expanded use of fentanyl test strips is also good news, but I think it stops far short of where we should be 18 months into this provincial emergency.”
While his area hasn’t been hit as hard as some others, he points out that every death is significant. These are people, not numbers.
Questions? Feedback? Get in touch! Janet Madsen, Capacity Building and Knowledge Translation Coordinator, [email protected]
Image: Focus by Andrew, Flickr (Creative Commons)