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

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country's crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of March 7

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

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Retired Mission teacher and star CFL kicker charged for assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Alan Sweet taught in school district for 10 years, investigators seeking further witnesses

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend service, in Chilliwack, B.C., on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. Lawyers for the British Columbia government and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are back in B.C. Supreme Court today, squaring off over the legality of COVID-19 rules that prohibit in-person religious services. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. top doctor has power to restrict access to a place during health hazard: lawyer

Under B.C.’s Public Health Act, Jacqueline Hughes says, Henry can restrict or prevent entry to a place

The incident occurred at approximately 10 a.m. amid heavy rains on the 29900 Block of the highway, near the Silverdale community. Shane MacKichan photo.
VIDEO: Late-night rollover crash on Lougheed Highway in Mission sends 2 to hospital

Jaws of Life used; patients sustained non-life threatening injuries

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

Sarah Cotton-Elliott said she believed her children took a back seat to arranging equal parenting

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

The family of injured Willoughby resident Ronald Gerald Jesso is hoping someone saw something that will help solve the mystery of how he came to be so badly hurt on the morning of Feb. 22. Jesso is still in hospital. (Jesso family/Special to Langley Advance Times)
An appeal to help solve the mystery of an injured Langley man

Family of Ronald Gerald Jesso asks witnesses to come forward

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: One man shot dead on Vancouver Island in ‘targeted incident’

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

Most Read