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

High winds Friday made perfect conditions for kite-surfers near the White Rock Pier. (Aaron Hinks photo)
PHOTOS: Kite-surfers take flight near White Rock Pier

Aerial performance put on near iconic waterfront attraction

White Rock City Hall (Peace Arch News photo)
City of White Rock seeking input on draft financial plan

Plan includes tax rate increase of 4.28 per cent

B.C. researchers are asking for the public’s help in monitoring the bat population. (Cathy Koot photo)
Semiahmoo Peninsula residents asked to monitor bat activity

Researchers keeping eye on spread of white-nose syndrome

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press)
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of Feb. 28

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

The Alzheimer Society of BC is hosting a number of webinars next month to help people prepare for financial and healthcare needs. (Contributed photo)
Alzheimer Society invites White Rock residents to series of educational webinars

Planning Ahead: Do it Now! webinar to be held March 10

An animated Gordie Hogg introduces his 'Community Connections' videos. (YouTube screenshot)
Community Connections: Gordie Hogg speaks with Lorne Ginther

Former mayor, MP began posting conversations on YouTube in June

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Alina Durham, mother of Shaelene Bell, lights candles on behalf of Bell’s two sons during a vigil on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO and PHOTOS: Candlelight vigil for missing Chilliwack woman sends message of hope

Small group of family, friends gathered to shine light for 23-year-old mother Shaelene Bell

Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Most Read