Drug overdose has out-matched COVID-19 deaths in B.C.
What is happening?
According to the most recent B.C.’s Coroners Service report, there has been a drastic increase in drug overdoses. In September 2020 there were 127 deaths due to overdoses in B.C., which is a 112 per cent increase since 2019. This means that in September roughly 4.2 people died per day because of overdose, according to the report.
For the whole of 2020, the B.C. Coroners Service reports 1,202 people have died due to overdose.
In the context of COVID-19, B.C. has only seen 256 deaths for all of 2020.
So why are drug overdoses hitting harder than the virus?
It seems the main reason for the high number in overdoses is actually because of COVID-19.
According to Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, only doctors and nurses can prescribe drugs – which includes alternatives to the illicit drugs on the street, giving people suffering from addiction a safer option. Because of COVID-19 medical resources are limited, people struggling with addiction are forced to take unsafe drugs bought off the street, rather than cleaner drugs at a clinic.
Another reason, according to a CBC article, is that the flow of drugs coming into B.C. has slowed because of the border closure. This might seem like a positive thing, but because of the stagnation of higher quality drugs, people are turning to more toxic drugs such as Fentanyl.
What is Fentanyl?
The Canadian Government defines Fentanyl as a “very potent opioid pain reliever. A few grains can be enough to kill you.”
It is 20 to 40 times more potent than heroin and is usually mixed with other drugs to increase the effects.
Because Fentanyl is odourless and tasteless, while there are ways of testing that can be bought in stores or online, the Canadian government warns these tests have limits.
What is being done?
Dr. Henry has issued an order for a temporary expansion to access safer prescription drugs, and has increased the availability of naloxone kits – an opioid overdose-reversing medication.
COVID-19 has put a strain on all social services, impacting vulnerable communities. The way COVID-19 has affected the drug problem in B.C. won’t be fully understood until the pandemic has ended.
Graphic by @sundaeghost