A downward trend in the number of drug overdoses that started late in 2016 is continuing into this year, according to numbers from Fraser Health and the B.C. Coroner’s Service.
The trend began last year, when Fraser Health noted there were two fewer deaths in Maple Ridge in 2016, 27 – compared to 2015, when 29 people died of illicit drug overdoses.
That’s a seven-per-cent drop in the number of fatal, illicit drug overdoses – compared to increases of 190 per cent in Langley and 46 per cent for Surrey.
In the first two months of this year, there have been two fatal ODs from illicit drugs in Maple Ridge, compared to six in Langley and seven in Abbotsford.
“We’re still the only community going down, as of today,” said Maple Ridge Coun. Kiersten Duncan.
“It’s huge that when you look at the data, and you compare us to … other communities under Fraser Health, we are the one community that’s seeing a reduction.”
Langley township or city has contacted Maple Ridge about how to reduce their overdoses.
“That’s how successful we’ve been,” Duncan said.
“It’s a huge thing for us to have that drop.”
She credited the city’s social planning personnel for the improvement.
Several efforts have been made to reduce fatalities.
RainCity Housing has been handing out naloxone (fentanyl-antidote) kits and having information sessions for the people living in the temporary homeless shelter it operates on Lougheed Highway in the downtown.
The City of Maple Ridge’s Strong Kids team also held a fentanyl forum and conducted a youth survey last year.
Recently, volunteers and city staff asked to have drug awareness posters put in the washrooms of local pubs and bars after workers learned that drug users who have been drinking are more likely to use drugs as well.
“All of these initiatives combined are clearly having an impact because we’re seeing a reduction. And that’s making a huge difference,” Duncan said.
“Unfortunately, people don’t realize how much work is going on to address this locally.”
A recent report from the B.C. Coroners Service says that in Maple Ridge, there were no overdoses where fentanyl was detected in January and February of this year. By comparison, Langley had six fatal fentanyl-detected ODs in those months, while Abbotsford had five.
Maple Ridge council recently rejected a plan to spend another $195,000 a year to pay for more social planners because a majority on council felt it wasn’t the city’s responsibility.
“We’ve put a lot of work into this,” said Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read.
She cited Ridge Meadows RCMP’s arrests of dealers, increased awareness, and school trustee Susan Carr’s campaign to have naloxone kits in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows schools as all helping the reduction.
“We’re going in the right direction,” Read said.
According to the B.C. Coroner’s Service, the number of fatal overdoses involving fentanyl in B.C. jumped by 90 per cent, up to 139 deaths, in the first two months of this year, compared to the same period last year.
Fraser Health also reported a 23-per-cent increase in illicit drug overdose deaths the first two months of this year compared to the same month in 2016, for the entire Fraser Health region, which includes Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.