In 2022, there were 36 people in Maple Ridge who died of a drug overdose, which is down from a high of 45 in 2021, but still tragically high.
“That’s a lot of people,” said Doug Sabourin, executive director of Alouette Addictions. “We know these people, and we grieve the loss of these people. These are good people, and we grieve them every day.”
He said the toxic drug supply is to blame for another year when too many people are dying in a public health emergency. According to the BC Coroner’s Service, at least 2,272 British Columbians lost their lives to toxic drugs in 2022. It’s the second-highest total ever, behind 2,306 deaths reported in 2021. The government expects the final number to be even higher in 2022, as investigations into the causes of deaths are completed.
“These statistics are brutal,” said Sabourin. “They don’t surprise me, and they make us strive to do better.”
Alouette Addictions is operating The Hub at The Ridge church, in partnership with other agencies. It’s a place where street people can shower, get a meal, and get access to support and services. Sabourin said The Hub has been funded until March 2024, and he sees it creating connections that have the potential to save lives.
Recently he saw a young man who wanted to volunteer there, and although he was unrecognizable as a clean-shaven man in a suit, he revealed that he had formerly been there as a client.
“We didn’t recognize him at first, but he wanted to volunteer,” said Sabourin. “That’s what keeps us going.”
He was asked whether the government’s new initiative to decriminalize possession of small amounts of narcotics will reduce the number of overdoses. Sabourin was skeptical of this three-year pilot project, which came into effect on Jan. 31. He said it does not address root causes – mental illness, addiction, chronic poverty, and homelessness. Nor will it result in a safer supply.
“It’s a witch’s brew,” he called the causes of overdose.
Some 11,200 people have fatally overdosed in B.C. since 2016, when the province declared a public health emergency.
“British Columbians across the province are continuing to experience tremendous harm and loss as a result of the province’s toxic illicit drug supply,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner.
“Our province continues to lose an average of six lives every day, and many more people experience serious health consequences as a result of the unpredictable, unregulated drug supply. Death due to drug toxicity remains the leading cause of unnatural death in British Columbia, and is second only to cancers in terms of years of life lost.”
In 2022, 70 per cent of those deaths were people aged 30-59, and four out of five were male.
Lapointe said the deaths are preventable. Toxicology data confirms the drug supply in B.C. is increasingly volatile and life-threatening. The Standing Committee on Health and two BC Coroners Service death review panels are in agreement that the province must rapidly increase access to a safer supply of drugs, and build a system of evidence-based care.
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