There was some good news out of the report the B.C. Coroners Service released Jan. 31, that overdose deaths declined in the last quarter of 2017 compared to 2016.
There were 99 deaths last December, compared to 164 the previous year. But that’s about all the good news. Overall, 2017 was the deadliest year for overdose deaths B.C. has ever seen, with 1,422 deaths compared to 914 in 2016.
In the majority of those deaths – 81 per cent – the synthetic opioid fentanyl played a part. That’s an increase over 2016 again, when the figure was estimated at 67 per cent. That many deaths makes you question just how much fentanyl is in circulation, and how many other overdoses there were that didn’t result in death, thanks to naloxone or other lifesaving measures.
Overdose deaths have been on the rise since 2008, when there were fewer than 200 deaths. Over the last three years – 2015, 2016 and 2017 – the numbers have climbed dramatically. The downward trend towards the end of last year is positive, even indicative, that current measures are working.
But it’s way too early for governments and non-government organizations to relax. The impact of this crisis is overwhelming and spreads throughout society thanks to years of over-prescribing painkillers, creating addicts in neighbourhoods from the poorest to the richest.
The Coroners Service is quick to point out that no deaths occurred at any supervised consumption site or at any of the drug overdose prevention sites. And while that is significant, it’s not the answer.
Making naloxone kits available is really only a stopgap measure. Any lasting solution to stopping this waste of human life is going to have to take place earlier, and it is going to require a massive co-ordinated effort: reduce the amount of drugs on the street, prevent people from falling into drug abuse in the first place and, especially, make addiction treatment easier to access than the drugs.