There was some good news out of the report the B.C. Coroners Service released last week, that overdose deaths declined in the last quarter of 2017 compared to 2016.
There were 99 deaths last December, compared to 164 the previous year. But that’s about all the good news. Overall, 2017 was the deadliest year for overdose deaths B.C. has ever seen, with 1,422 deaths compared to 914 in 2016.
In the majority of those deaths – 81 per cent – the synthetic opioid fentanyl played a part. That’s an increase over 2016 again, when the figure was estimated at 67 per cent.
That many deaths makes you question just how much fentanyl is being used and how many other overdoses there were that didn’t result in death, via the timely application of naloxone or other lifesaving measures.
The downward trend towards the end of last year is positive, even indicative that current measures are working. But it’s way too early for governments and non-government organizations to relax.
The size of this crisis is overwhelming, and spreads throughout society thanks to years of overprescribing painkillers creating addicts in neighbourhoods from the poorest to the richest. Victoria is one of 18 B.C. communities which will receive funding for community action teams to address the ongoing epidemic. That is a step in the right direction.
Making naloxone kits available is really only a stopgap measure to prevent overdose deaths; it’s dealing with the problem once it’s already reached crisis stage.
Any lasting solution to stopping this waste of human life is going to have to take place earlier, and it is going to require a massive co-ordinated effort: reduce the amount of drugs on the street, prevent people from falling into drug abuse in the first place and especially, make addiction treatment easier to access than the drugs.