New overdose spike in B.C. is ‘tragic’ and ‘frustrating,’ says addictions minister

Lori Danella says increase in fentanyl deaths ‘deeply concerning’ as statistics suggest the problem has not eased New overdose spike in B.C. is ‘tragic’ and ‘frustrating,’ says addictions minister Deaths from illicit drugs in…

New overdose spike in B.C. is ‘tragic’ and ‘frustrating,’ says addictions minister

Lori Danella says increase in fentanyl deaths ‘deeply concerning’ as statistics suggest the problem has not eased

New overdose spike in B.C. is ‘tragic’ and ‘frustrating,’ says addictions minister

Deaths from illicit drugs in British Columbia doubled in the first four months of this year – and the increase is “tragic” and “frustrating,” the province’s minister of addiction and mental health said on Monday.

Lori Danella said the BC Coroners Service statistics were “deeply concerning” as they suggest that the problem of rising overdose deaths has not eased.

An earlier study by the federal government showed that B.C. recorded 4,189 deaths from illicit drugs between January and September 2016.

The statistics for B.C. are much higher than the national average. The latest rates do not include all deaths from suspected synthetic fentanyl, however. Figures released by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse on Thursday showed that fentanyl overdoses accounted for 95.2% of deaths across Canada between April 1 and May 31, 2017.

In 2016, B.C. recorded 616 deaths from overdose – making the province second in Canada behind Alberta in terms of deaths caused by illicit drugs.

The numbers for 2017 are still far higher than the 575 deaths that occurred in all of 2016. Last week, the provincial NDP unveiled a major new drug strategy, which aims to control illicit drug use, improve treatment for people addicted to opioids and end the problem of overdose deaths that continues to claim lives across the province.

Those included new measures aimed at the deadly emerging drug fentanyl, including new laws that allow police and health officials to demand a blood sample in order to test for the synthetic opioid.

The strategy also promises new efforts to strengthen existing treatment and rehab programs, enhance outreach work with people suffering from addiction and training to educate health professionals about illicit drugs and addictions.

The province has already tripled spending on methadone and suboxone to almost $400m, and added more than 1,000 beds to help with the growing demand for those drugs.

“I don’t want to alarm people, but this is happening on a daily basis and we are not saying that it is going to stop,” Danella said in an interview. “We have to do everything we can to save the lives of those who are suffering from addiction.”

But critics say the strategies do not go far enough. Ry Moran, a professor and director of the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C., said the focus on methadone and buprenorphine is not moving people away from illicit drugs.

Last week, B.C. collected 471.4 illegal drug tickets from police and other agencies, up 19% from the same period last year. The tickets cover a wide range of infractions, including people driving while under the influence, without a license, without the required insurance and carrying a prohibited or restricted drug.

The B.C. police added 121 opioids to the form of the drug tested by the Canada Border Services Agency last year, up from 86 the year before. The agency said methadone accounted for over a third of the increases.

“We’re not seeing the decreases in methadone use that we were seeing a few years ago. It has basically stayed stagnant and we’re talking about something like a billion dollars for addiction treatment in the province,” Moran said.

He warned that a new government in Victoria may be more in favour of a tough-on-crime approach than the previous one, which had rejected a series of recommendations from the independent provincial coroners’ and public health officials to get out of the treatment business, shift resources to the front lines and intensify supervision and monitoring.

“We’re starting to see the new government adopt some of those recommendations but there’s a big difference between new recommendations and implemented recommendations,” he said.

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