Updated statistics from the BC Coroners Service show the number of illicit drug overdose deaths among B.C. residents remained steady over the past month. The provincial government continues to be committed to working with public health officials, front-line health providers, law enforcement, BC Coroners Service, first responders and other partners throughout B.C. – including people who use drugs and their family members — to combat the alarming rates still being seen.
Task groups focused on specific aspects of the response have been formed under the recently established Joint Task Force on Overdose Response and actions are well underway.
The task group assigned to expanding the availability of naloxone, a life-saving antidote to opioids such as fentanyl and heroin, is working to make naloxone nasal spray kits available in B.C., and to expand the training and provision of kits to include additional professions and organizations like B.C. correctional centres. As well, more than 50 emergency departments throughout B.C. are now giving naloxone kits to patients who have been treated for an opioid overdose and may be at risk for another.
The task group that is charged with increasing public awareness will launch the first phase of a public campaign later this month to increase awareness on how to prevent, identify and respond to opioid overdoses.
Health Minister Terry Lake and Public Safety and Solicitor General Minister Mike Morris wrote their federal counterparts calling on them to lead a co-ordinated, national effort to the problem, starting with changes to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and Precursor Control Regulation. They also committed to working with the federal government on:
- the establishment of additional supervised consumption services in B.C.;
- restricting access to pill presses and tableting machines;
- limiting access to the materials used to manufacture fentanyl;
- providing mechanisms and authorities for early and safe destruction of fentanyl, its related compounds and their precursors without jeopardizing prosecutions; and
- escalating charges for the importation and trafficking of fentanyl.
The Province appreciates that acting quickly can save lives, and B.C. will continue to seek federal collaboration to help put an end to illicit drug labs in B.C. and keep fentanyl off the street.
Work is also underway to establish a testing service to help people find out if their drugs contain adulterants, including fentanyl. Health authorities are in the process of engaging with stakeholders and municipalities to discuss expanding access to supervised consumption services. Plans are also in development for more health and social services workers to be trained in overdose response, in settings where clients may be using illicit drugs. The accessibility and range of medications available for opioid substitution treatment is being expanded, including making Suboxone a medication any physician in B.C. can prescribe.
In April 2016, Dr. Kendall and Health Minister Terry Lake declared a public health emergency in response to the opioid overdose crisis. Since then, more information on overdose events has helped the health system and other partners identify what strategies will be most effective in preventing and responding to opioid overdoses.
The data collection to date has revealed that more first responders and a broader range of people are administering naloxone. Since January, the number of provincial ambulance calls resulting in naloxone administration has decreased, while the distribution of Take Home Naloxone kits has increased. In this period, 32% of people who received naloxone were between 25 and 34 years old and 69% were male. Adjusting for population, Vancouver Coastal Health had the highest rate of 911 calls (381 calls for 100,000 persons) for ingestion poisonings, which include illicit drug overdoses. Island Health had the second highest at 344 calls per 100,000 persons.
Additional statistics are still being analysed from emergency rooms, and will include more information about the communities and people that may be most at-risk. These data will help government and partners better target actions to prevent further overdoses, including the distribution of naloxone training and kits, outreach and awareness campaigns, and other services that can help prevent overdoses and fatalities.
The task force established last month is co-chaired by Dr. Perry Kendall, provincial health officer and Clayton Pecknold, director of Police Services. All members have now been appointed to the Joint Task Force on Overdose Response. They include:
Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer and vice-president, Public Health
Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General
Arlene Paton, assistant deputy minister, Ministry of Health
Brian Cantera, chief superintendent, RCMP
Laurence Rankin, deputy chief constable, Vancouver Police Department
To learn more about additional government actions to reduce overdoses, please visit: news.gov.bc.ca/factsheets/actions-to-prevent-overdoses-in-british-columbia
To learn more about Coroners Service statistics on illicit drug overdose deaths, please visit: www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/death-investigation/statistical/illicit-drug.pdf
To learn more about Coroners Service statistics on fentanyl-detected illicit drug overdose deaths, please visit: www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/death-investigation/statistical/fentanyl-detected-overdose.pdf
To learn more about the Joint Task Force on Overdose Response, please visit: news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2016PREM0082-001361