Five more people died in Abbotsford from drug overdoses in April and May, bringing the year’s total to 13, according to a new report from the BC Coroners Service.
In April, the province declared an unprecedented health emergency after more than 200 people died from overdoses in the first three months of the year. Since then, the rate of deaths has decreased, but are still substantially higher than in years prior. Across B.C., 60 people died of overdoses in April and another 42 died in May, bringing the provincial total to 308 this year.
That figure is 130 more than in 2015, a year that saw the highest number of overdose deaths since 1998.
With 13 deaths through the end of May, Abbotsford remains on course to exceed last year’s gloomy total of 24 overdose deaths. The coroner’s report says fentanyl – an opioid 10 times stronger than heroin, into which it is often cut – has played a role in six overdose deaths in Abbotsford so far this year. That is the same number as all of 2015.
Across B.C., the Coroners Service reported, “in the majority of deaths, fentanyl was detected in combination with other drugs.”
The declaration of a public health emergency was hoped to speed up the sharing of data to enable health providers to better respond to trends in opioid use and more quickly spread the word when deadly concoctions were discovered.
Meanwhile, Abbotsford has already seen the benefits of another move hoped to reduce the number of overdose deaths. Earlier this year, the province paved the way for firefighters to carry naloxone, a drug that quickly reverses the symptoms of opioid overdose. Since then, naloxone has been approved for over-the-counter distribution, and Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service crews began carrying it in May.
June 3 saw a firefighter administer naloxone for the first time to a drug-overdose patient. The patient recovered and was taken to hospital after paramedics arrived on the scene.
Last month, the Abbotsford Police Department sent a letter to all parents of middle and high school students in the Abbotsford school district reiterating the dangers posed by fentanyl and other drugs.
The letter by Police Chief Bob Rich urges parents to discuss drugs with their children and stresses that teens of all stripes are at risk.
“Although there are many behaviours/signs to watch for, it is important never to automatically assume your child hasn’t already or isn’t thinking about experimenting with drugs – it’s not always as obvious as we think.”
The letter notes that fentanyl is often cut into other drugs and can come in powder, liquid or pill form.
“You can’t see, smell, or taste it, and since there are no quality control measures in the drug trade, a drug user has no idea if and how much fentanyl may be in the drug they are about to consume.”