Last Thursday marked one year since the province declared its first public health emergency, in response to the steadily climbing overdose deaths in B.C.
A total of 914 lives have been claimed from opioid-related deaths since the declaration was made April 14, 2016 by Health Minister Terry Lake and provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall.
At that time, January 2016 was marked as the month when the largest number of overdose deaths had occurred since 2007 – when 76 people died – and that number was quickly beaten.
For the past four months, more than a hundred people have died each month, including a record 142 lives lost in December – close to double that of January.
The most recent statistics show an average of seven people dying every two days across the province.
According to the BC Coroners Service, the Langleys recorded 29 overdose deaths in 2016.
Already in January and February, six people have died from drug overdoses here.
The coroner’s stats show there were 102 drug overdose deaths in February 2017. This is a 72.9 per cent increase over the number of death occuring in February 2016 which saw 59 deaths.
In a statement Thursday, Kendall acknowledged that the deaths are continuing, despite the heroic efforts of volunteers, family members and first responders, as well as awareness campaigns from health authorities and the use of naloxone kits that have reversed “thousands” of overdoses.
“While the continued toll is discouraging, we must also acknowledge that because of these actions, hundreds of people are alive and hundreds more are now in treatment and recovery who would not be there if not for these interventions,” he said.
Langley outreach worker Fraser Holland agrees that efforts are being made, but adds more can be done to help this crisis.
He said the key is mental health and substance use services that can be accessed either when the individual is ready to make changes or to have those services flexible enough to meet the individual where they are.
“There is hope that the Intensive Case Management Team that will soon be introduced to Langley will make strides in this area,” said Holland.
Wait times to treatment are still a problem.
“Having lengthy wait times for individuals that are struggling to survive without shelter, security or the comfort of knowing where their next meal is coming from can end up being a barrier to making changes,” he said. “Looking at overdose prevention—understanding what substances do to your body, knowing how to identify an opioid overdose and how to prevent one, knowing about Naloxone, knowing how to administer it and knowing about overdose after-care is important.”
– with files from Monique