​British Columbia Has Declared a Public Health Emergency over Drug Overdoses

The province saw nearly 500 deaths from drug overdose in 2015, a 30 percent rise from the year before. The main driver behind the rise appears to be the opioid fentanyl.

by Jake Kivanc
Apr 14 2016, 7:57pm

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The government in British Columbia, Canada, has declared the increasing number of drug-overdose deaths in the province a public health emergency and has enacted a rapid response system to track deaths.

According to BC Health Minister Terry Lake, the 30 percent rise in overdoses between 2014 and 2015 has been a "huge concern" for the province, so much so that the province will now be tracking overdose deaths in real time—a procedure that has been called upon by advocates in the past but rarely done.

"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," a statement on the ministry's website reads.

The main driver for overdoses in BC is opioids, with fentanyl—the deadly painkiller responsible for skyrocketing overdose rates across Canada—taking up 31 percent of all overdoses in 2015, compared to just five percent in 2012.

This year, in January alone there were 71 drug overdoses in BC, but the total number of deaths is oftentimes not reported immediately due to the delayed tracking of cause of death. New regulations will make it so that overdose deaths will not only be automatically logged, but that non-fatal overdoses will also be added to that list.

"Health authorities have consistently asked for more data that will help inform responses and prevent future overdoses," said BC's Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall in a statement.

"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."

Although the statement doesn't specifically go after opioids as the main issue, the ministry highlights the newly launched take-home program for naloxone—an opioid antidote that is capable of counteracting an overdose—as one of the key pillars in response to the crisis.

Fake OxyContin pills are oftentimes laced with fentanyl. Photo courtesy Calgary Police.

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