The Northwest region of Northwest Health saw 0 fentanyl-detected deaths in January as the entire province saw a 33 per cent decrease in deaths compared to January 2019.
Despite the positive news for the Northwest and B.C., the rate of deaths in the Northern Health region still remained the same as in 2019 which also saw six deaths for the month. The Northeast had four deaths, while the Northern Interior saw two.
Statistics for B.C. also paint a grim picture with regard to the total number of drug toxicity deaths where fentanyl or one of its analogues were detected in lab tests remaining alarmingly high at 86 per cent. In 2015 that number was at 29 per cent. By 2017 it had spiked to 82 per cent. 2018-2019 saw it remain relatively static at 86 and 85 per cent, respectively.
Currently the Northern Health region has the highest rate of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2020 (29 deaths per 100,000 individuals), however this does not account solely for fentanyl-related deaths, but any death related to an illegal substance. This rate is followed by Interior Health Authority (23 deaths per 100,000 individuals). This compares to an overall rate of 20 deaths per 100,000 individuals in the first three months for the Province.
Doctors in the province have already sounded the alarm that the virus could have far-reaching impacts into the crisis, with Dr. Daniel Kalla, head of emergency medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, telling media outlets last month he had fears the pandemic was driving people to abuse substances more recklessly and saying he had seen an increase in overdoses since it began.
The crisis continues to impact males at approximately a 3 to 1 rate compared to females, with deaths for January (47 male, 15 female) reflecting these rates. Seventy-nine per cent of the deaths in 2020 have been between the ages of 19 and 49, reflecting a continuation of a trend from recent years.
Northern Health has taken a number of recent steps in the region to address the crisis, including funding an additional community action team (CAT) in Terrace. Dawson Creek and Quesnel will also be getting CAT teams, bringing the regional total to five. The region is also implementing education resources, including modules and online training for all support staff to reduce stigma toward people who use substances. Out east, a nurse practitioner completed an injectable opioid agonist therapy fellowship to provide services in Prince George.