The opioid crisis has caused life expectancy to drop in B.C.

Canada's chief public health officer says the trend is likely to extend across the country.
Opioid epidemic has caused life expectancy to drop in B.C.

The opioid crisis has caused life expectancy to drop in British Columbia.

The disturbing findings are contained in a new report released by the Canadian government, showing that, from 2014 to 2016, life expectancy dropped by 0.38 years in B.C. — or about 4.5 months — and that drug overdose deaths, mostly opioid related, contributed to about a month and a half of that decrease. Men now face a life expectancy that is about five years shorter than women, and drug overdoses are blamed for about 9 percent of that gap. The trend is also more acute for the most socioeconomically disadvantaged and marginalized communities.

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The report comes out of the office of Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam, who notes that the trend, though most noticeable in B.C., is likely to extend across the country. More than 8,000 people in Canada have died due to opioid-related overdoses since 2016.

British Columbia is known as the epicentre of the opioid crisis, prompting the province to declare a public health emergency over the issue in the spring of 2016.

Fentanyl or its analogues, in combination with other drugs, accounted for most of those overdose deaths, the report stated. Fentanyl was detected in 5 percent of B.C.’s illicit drug deaths in 2012, but that proportion rocketed up to 60 percent in 2016. Even prescription opioids, made abundantly available throughout pharmacies, have played a role in the crisis. Measures taken to regulate permissive prescribing tendencies have been introduced, though to limited effect.

The report touched on drug decriminalization as a possible way to curb the current crisis by stating that any such measure must be combined with treatment and social programs in order to really work. Other experts have emphasized the need for preventative measures and programs to keep people from becoming addicted to opioids.

Drug overdose deaths have dramatically increased in B.C., from 369 deaths in 2014 to 1,208 as of October 31, 2017.

Cover image of an anti-fentanyl advertisment is seen on a sidewalk in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April, 11, 2017. Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press