B.C. health officials hope there's no repeat of last fall's overdose spike


B.C. health officials hope there's no repeat of last fall's overdose spike
  1. B.C. health officials hope there's no repeat of last fall's overdose spike
    canada.com
    Health officials say that while they can’t predict whether they’ll face another deadly spike in overdoses this fall, their warning remains the same — don’t use alone.  Last November, the arrival of the toxic opioid carfentanil in the street-drug supply contributed to a spike in illicit-drug overdoses that killed 137 people, up from 74 the…
    Health
 

FILE PHOTO Provincial and First Nations representatives released their preliminary finding into the rates of overdose deaths that affect First Nations people in BC, at a press conference in Vancouver, BC Thursday, August 3, 2017. Pictured is BC Coroner Service Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe.

Photograph by: Jason Payne , Vancouver Sun

Health officials say that while they can’t predict whether they’ll face another deadly spike in overdoses this fall, their warning remains the same — don’t use alone. 

Last November, the arrival of the toxic opioid carfentanil in the street-drug supply contributed to a spike in illicit-drug overdoses that killed 137 people, up from 74 the previous month. 

B.C. paramedics responded to a staggering 2,378 overdose and poisoning calls that month, up from 1,681 in October.

Then, in December, overdoses killed 161 people, the highest monthly number on record.

That month, the Ministry of Health established a network of overdose-prevention sites across the province and dispatched its mobile-medical unit — used for health emergencies and disasters — to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

B.C.’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said that 90 per cent of overdose deaths, regardless of the time of year, happen indoors.

“Really, the pattern all along has been people using indoors, alone … or in the company of people who don’t recognize an overdose,” she said.

“Our sense is that people don’t want anyone to know that they’re using, so they’re not letting their family know, they’re not letting their friends know, and of course that makes them really vulnerable to dying if they get into trouble.”

But despite this stigma causing people to use alone, a growing number of people carrying overdose-reversing naloxone suggests to Lapointe that the public perception of drug addiction is shifting, she said. 

Sarah Blyth, of the Vancouver Overdose Prevention Society, said that holidays can be especially hard for people who use drugs, and fewer may be willing to endure the cold to visit or wait their turn at overdose-prevention services.

In the summer, people will use drugs in alleyways and on sidewalks with others, but in the winter they head indoors, Blyth said.

She hopes some social-housing providers reconsider policies that bar tenants from bringing visitors into their rooms.

“One of the biggest issues is people dying alone and I think that supersedes everything right now,” Blyth said. 

“We need to do whatever we can to continue to pull people out of their housing, and if they’re at home, they need to not be alone, they need a friend.”

Dr. Keith Ahamad, a clinician researcher at the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, said addictions doctors worry some patients will increasingly use drugs alone indoors during the colder months because they don’t have sufficient access to harm-reduction services, such as supervised-consumption sites, in remote communities.

“I’…

B.C. health officials hope theres no repeat of last falls overdose spike
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