Vancouver Island docs hope declaration of emergency can help stem overdose tide

The province has declared an unprecedented state of emergency in response to an epidemic of drug related deaths so far this year

Overdose deaths in B.C. have increased to the point where the province has declared an unprecedented public health emergency.

An Island Health medical health officer hopes the public health emergency declared across B.C. today can launch a serious discussion about safe consumption sites on Vancouver Island.

The province declared an unprecedented state of emergency this morning in response to an epidemic of drug-related deaths so far this year.

Victoria and Nanaimo are ground zero on the Island, which has added more than 40 people to a 2016 provincial body count that is on pace to obliterate last year’s total of 474 overdose deaths by more than 300 people.

Vancouver Island medical health officer Dr. Paul Hasselback said the death rate is evidence of how communities need to consider places where people can inject, inhale or swallow drugs with the supervision of a health professional.

“I think the most important thing it does is that it helps highlight the severity of the situation,” Hasselback said. “This is an unusual circumstance. This will legitimize it. We can’t have an emergency and not do anything different.”

Hasselback first publicly brought up the issue of safe consumption sites last month in an interview with the Nanaimo News Bulletin. It followed on the heels of a Canadian Press story in February that Island Health had started talks with Victoria city officials and police about supervised injection sites there.

Provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall declared the public health emergency today to allow medical health officers to collect real-time information on overdoses in order to identify immediately where risks are arising and be proactive in warning and protecting people who use drugs.

“The recent surge in overdoses is a huge concern for us,” Health Minister Terry Lake said in a media release. “We have to do what’s needed to prevent overdoses and deaths, and what’s needed is real-time information. Medical health officers need immediate access to what’s happening and where so they can deploy the necessary strategies to prevent these tragedies.”

Currently, information on overdoses is only reported if someone dies. The emergency declaration should increase access to the information and accelerate the speed with which it is shared.

Hasselback said the changes are not about compromising people’s privacy. They are about saving lives.

“Health authorities have consistently asked for more data that will help inform responses and prevent future overdoses,” Kendall said. “This is the first step in making that happen.

“Over the next few weeks, I’ll work with medical health officers, health authorities, emergency room staff, paramedics and other first responders and the BC Coroners Service to determine how best to collect and share the data.”

The ministry expects the data to help prevent future overdoses and deaths by better targeting outreach, bad drug warnings, awareness campaigns and distribution of naloxone training and kits, the release states. It will help health care workers connect with vulnerable communities and provide take-home naloxone to the people who need it.

On the Island, the epidemic is concentrated in its two biggest population centres. According to Hasselback, in just three months, Nanaimo already is just one death shy of its three-year annual average of 17.

“We have seen some in other communities, but the vast majority are in greater Victoria and the Nanaimo region,” he said.

A total of 76 deaths in B.C. January was the largest number of deaths in a single month since at least 2007.

Many of the deaths are linked to the synthetic drug fentanyl, which is increasingly being unknowingly ingested by users after being cut into other drugs like cocaine and heroin.

Naloxone — used to reverse overdoses involving opioids like fentanyl — is now available without a prescription at a number of locations in many Vancouver Island communities. Check towardtheheart.com for one nearest you.

Hasselback said communities have to understand the gravity of the situation and realize that every harm reduction option needs to be part of the discussion.

“How do we maximize our ability to respond?”

Follow me on Twitter @JohnMcKinleyBP

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria police Chief Const. Del Manak appreciates the efforts of residents and business owners who took part in the VicPD community survey. The questionnaire saw a combined nearly 1,000 respondents from Victoria and Esquimalt. (Black Press Media file photo)
VicPD survey says: overall satisfaction positive, accountability needs work

Respondents feel safe during day, not so much at night; more police presence would help

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is looking for this man, who they say stole a charity box. (Facebook/Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers)
Crime Stoppers looking for man who stole charity box from Saanich grocery store

Anyone with information asked to call Crime Stoppers

A crowd gathers at Mount Newton Cross Road and Highway 17 on Oct. 23. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Highway reopens after rally supporting Mi’kmaq fishing rights in Nova Scotia

Central Saanich demonstration interrupts Friday afternoon traffic

Sooke man Rik Downer spent two weeks in the Royal Jubilee Hospital after contracting flesh-eating bacteria. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Sooke man’s bumped knee leads to fight for life

Man unknowingly contracts case of rare flesh-eating disease

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson,  BC NDP leader John Horgan and BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau. (File)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Climate change and sustainability promises from the parties

Snap election has led to a short campaign; here’s the lowdown on the platforms

Most Read