Blue Line

Jump in overdose deaths in Vancouver highlight two health emergencies: city

April 2, 2020  By The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — A recent spike of overdose deaths in Vancouver is an important reminder there are two ongoing public health emergencies, the city says as the province grapples with the rollout of a safe supply of drugs for users.

Vancouver police responded to eight suspected overdose deaths last week, the highest number since August and in contrast to a decline in overdose deaths over the past year, the city said in a statement on Wednesday.

The deaths came as the province and Vancouver deals with implementing new guidance to ensure a safe supply of drugs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The death toll has finally started coming down. We want that to continue,”’ Judy Darcy, the minister of mental health and addictions. “We know there is a great risk when there are dual public health emergencies and because of the difficulty of physical isolation.


“That’s why these extraordinary measures are needed: to continue to stop overdoses at the same time that we flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic—

The city said it is hoped that by allowing the prescription of safe drugs, the risk of overdoses will be reduced while also allowing people to keep a physical distance.

“I know it’ll seem counterintuitive to people, that giving people the drugs they’re addicted to will help them, but it is. And it will help all of us,” said Ann Livingston, the executive project co-ordinator for the B.C./Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors.

The association is handing out brochures to residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to raise awareness of the prescription program among drug users.

Depending on the substance, the safe supply will be offering alternatives ranging from hydromorphone for opioid users to Dexedrine for those who use stimulants.

Those drugs would then be delivered to the user by their pharmacy.

If a user doesn’t have a doctor or health-care worker to help them, they are being directed to use a rapid action clinic.

Livingston said she’s worried about the implementation across the province.

The safe drug supply is just a guidance at this time, meaning doctors or pharmacists in smaller towns where there’s more stigma placed on drug users can choose to ignore it, she said.

But Darcy said the province is working to make sure all prescribers are aware of the new guidance.

“There’s bound to be some bumps in the road,” she said. “Our goal here is to both bring down the (opioid) death toll and flatten the curve.”

The province is working with a variety of medical groups as well as creating more resources for drug users, to ensure they understand what they’re eligible for.

There have been more than 4,700 overdose deaths in B.C. since a public health emergency was first declared nearly four years ago.

– Nick Wells

This report by The Canadian Press was first reported April 1, 2020.


News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2020

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