In the first nine months of 2020, there have been 23 drug toxicity deaths in North Vancouver Island. Pixabay photo

In the first nine months of 2020, there have been 23 drug toxicity deaths in North Vancouver Island. Pixabay photo

B.C.’s drug overdose emergency far from over, report shows

COVID-19 has exacerbated drug toxicity death rate

The most recent report from the BC Coroners Service indicates that a public health emergency in terms of drug overdose deaths is far from over.

According to statistics, there was a 112 per cent increase in the number of illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C. from September 2019 to September 2020. During that period, the number jumped from 60 to 127, province-wide.

Statistics show that men, especially in the 30- to 59-year age bracket, account for most of the deaths.

Stigma, shame and gender conditioning are some of the reasons why men predominate the fatality statistics, says Shari Dunnet, project co-ordinator of the Comox Valley Community Action Team. Men who use substances tend to keep it hidden for fear of repercussions from employers or family members — which in turn leads to higher risk as they are more likely to use alone.

“This increases their risk tremendously as there is no intervention to reverse things should they overdose,” Dunnet said.

Gender conditioning, she notes, is also a barrier as men generally have a harder time than women when it comes to asking for help or supporting one another.

“Many men who use substances are fully employed and securely housed, and many work in the trades, hence the age range as well as gender,” Dunnet added.

The past decade has shown an alarming increase in the yearly number of drug toxicity deaths in B.C. In 2010, there were 211 deaths. By 2016 — the year the province declared a public health emergency — there were 991 deaths. The number peaked at 1,547 in 2018.

“We were starting to see some reduction in drug toxicity deaths (981) in 2019,” said Dr. Charmaine Enns, North Island medical health officer. “We weren’t back to baseline, but we were starting to see, finally, a downward curve. 2020, with our second public health emergency being COVID-19, reversed all of that, and more. If the drug toxicity death rate continues at the rate it has been, we are going to exceed our worst year to date, which was 2018.”

In North Vancouver Island, there were four illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2010. In 2017, the number had jumped to 37. In the first nine months of this year, there have been 23 drug toxicity deaths in the region.

“From my perspective, that’s 23 deaths that didn’t need to happen,” Enns said. “We’re four-and-a-half years into this public health emergency. COVID is our second public health emergency, which has been in place since March. So we have dual public health emergencies happening…This issue in terms of drug toxicity deaths is not going away.”

On average, she said more than four souls are being lost each day in B.C. due to toxicity levels in drugs.

The coroners report says no deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.

“But we’ve been reporting that for 4 1/2 years,” Enns said. “I think there’s a callout for us as citizens, as families, as loved ones, as friends, we need to really look out for each other in this time when people are isolating more. Isolation is a terrible thing for anyone on any given day, but it can be especially damaging for people who already feel isolated for other reasons. This is a significant contributor to why we’ve seen such an increase in drug toxicity deaths this past year.”

The issue crosses all levels of government, added Enns, who feels the federal government needs to decriminalize use.

“We’re criminalizing people for a chronic, relapsing medical condition. That’s not helpful in any way. We need to do a lot of things, and we all need to do what we have the power to influence.”

Island Health provides an overdose prevention and supervised consumption location at 941C England Ave. in downtown Courtenay. The service includes harm reduction supplies, support and education, and referrals to other services. It operates seven days a week from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., though staff are experimenting with longer hours from 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday to Friday. Enter through the blue door on the left. Call (250) 331-8524 for more information.

READ: Comox resident advocates overdose awareness in schools

READ: Courtenay couple holds senior governments accountable for drug crisis

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

For Leela Harrop, the recent death of her brother Raju Tiwari pushed her to sign up for the vaccine. Photo supplied
Comox woman on fence about vaccine prompted by brother’s death

Leela Harrop says she did have issues with signing up online this past week

Most categories of crime held steady from year to year in Cumberland. File photo
Cumberland crime numbers hold steady year to year

A few categories had notable changes but many were similar to 2019

The colourful Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly has been reintroduced on Hornby Island, BC. Photo courtesy the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project.
Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project releases more caterpillars on Hornby Island

Chris Junck Special to Black Press The number of Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies… Continue reading

Paper Excellence took over Catalyst Paper operations in B.C. in 2018. (Paper Excellence photo)
The Baynes Sound Connector leaves Denman Island en route to Buckley Bay. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Baynes Sound Connector undergoing upgrades

The MV Quinitsa is providing service between Buckley Bay and Denman Island

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

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

The following is a list of restaurants offering take-out and patio dining. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
List of Comox Valley restaurants offering take-out, patio dining options

Restaurants in the Comox Valley continue to adapt to government-imposed restrictions in… Continue reading

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
RCMP intercept vehicle fleeing with infant taken from Kamloops hospital

The baby was at the hospital receiving life-saving care

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Most Read