The overdose crisis continues to disrupt Mission after another year of devastating numbers.
The BC Coroners’ Service released its yearly statistics in a report on Tuesday (Jan. 31) and announced Mission had 33 drug toxicity deaths in 2022.
The number rose from 18 deaths in 2021 and 3 deaths in 2012. Mission has the 14th highest drug toxicity death rate among BC’s top local health areas at 67 deaths per 100,000 people.
BC Emergency Health services also released its yearly report on overdose response in BC communities. In 2022, Mission paramedics responded to 456 overdose calls.
It’s a 250 per cent increase in calls from 2015 and more than the 398 calls from 2021.
Kat Wahamaa, project coordinator with the Mission Overdose Community Action Team (CAT), says the numbers don’t come as a shock.
“It’s painful and demoralizing,” Wahamaa said. “There’s no surprise because we aren’t really moving the envelope. It really isn’t about more people taking drugs. It’s about the toxicity level of the drugs on the street.”
The newly-released 2022 numbers come amidst the province’s decriminalization of drugs for personal use starting on Jan. 31. The province was granted a federal exemption in 2022 through the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to allow 2.5 grams for personal possession – two grams less than initially requested.
“I don’t know how much of an impact [decriminalization] is going to have,” Wahamaa said. “There are issues with how it’s being rolled out and the amounts aren’t really high enough.”
Wahamaa says there are some positive things happening in Mission with the Overdose Community Action Team, physicians on board, and people witnessing overdoses and administering Naloxone.
“In many ways, I think Mission is doing some good things, but there’s still so much to be done and some of that is totally out of the community’s control,” she said. “It’s something that requires many levels of communication and collaboration.”
Wahamaa says anti-drug tactics like ‘Just say no’, punishment, and criminalization don’t work.
“The most immediate thing is for people to have access to clean, safe drugs,” she said.
The biggest hurdles to making the changes are political will and funding, Wahamaa says.
“We wouldn’t let people die in these massive numbers of anything else,” Wahamaa said. “It’s still seen as somehow a choice people bring on [themselves]. None of that is evidence-based.”
She says there are misconceptions about overdoses primarily impacting the unhoused population.
“The majority of people dying are men aged 30 to 60 who were employed and housed,” Wahamaa said.
According to the BC Coroners Service, 83 per cent of illicit drug toxicity deaths occurred inside in 2022 with 55 per cent in private residences. The 30-59 age group generated 70 per cent of the 2,272 overdose deaths in BC last year.
“It’s not a moral failing on somebody’s part when they’re actually having problems,” she said. “Why are we letting people take deadly substances and then reviving them versus providing clean substances?”
The Mission RCMP says the chemical makeup of the illicit drug supply on a given day is unknown.
“It is recommended, if you are going to partake in the use of these substances to carry naloxone and don’t use alone.”
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