Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. It was one of the images used in a movie and panel discussion in Maple Ridge in February by the group Moms Stop The Harm – a network of mothers and families whose loved ones have died from substance use. (THE NEWS – files)

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. It was one of the images used in a movie and panel discussion in Maple Ridge in February by the group Moms Stop The Harm – a network of mothers and families whose loved ones have died from substance use. (THE NEWS – files)

REFLECTIONS 2020: Drug overdose epidemic made worse by pandemic

Ridge Meadows RCMP, Alouette addictions issued warnings about toxic drug supply

While the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe, B.C. was actually hit even harder in 2020 by the plague of opioid overdoses.

On the Monday before Christmas, the BC Coroner’s service issued a warning of extreme cauction due to increasingly toxic illicit drugs in the province.

Five people per day have been losing their lives across the province. Maple Ridge is on a tragic pace to have its deadliest year ever.

The coroner’s warning came on the heels of 153 fatal overdoses in November – an increase of 89 per cent over the 81 in November of 2019.

In Maple Ridge, there have been 31 overdose deaths in 2020 through November, compared with 13 in all of 2019. The most deadly year ever was 33 in 2016 in the city.

“Tragically, as we reach the end of 2020, our province is facing a record-breaking year for lives lost due to a toxic illicit drug supply,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner. “In the five years of this public health emergency, more than 6,500 families have experienced the grief and sadness of losing a loved one to the challenging medical condition of drug addiction. I extend my sincere condolences to all of those grieving a family member, friend or colleague due to this disease.”

Ridge Meadows RCMP reported in early July they had responded to five reports of overdoses in a space of just two days, and pleaded with drug users to be more aware of the dangers.

By the end of May, the city had already surpassed the number of overdose deaths from the previous year.

People like Doug Sabourin, Alouette Addictions acting executive director, were sounding the alarm about an increasingly deadly street drugs.

The pandemic exacerbated the problem, as drug users who have been taught not to use alone found themselves socially isolating to protect themselves from COVID.

Province wide there were 983 overdose deaths in 2019, and the B.C. passed that number in August. Paramedics were responding to 87 calls to overdoses every day through the month of July. Extreme concentrations of the deadly drug fentanyl have been blamed by the BC Coroners Service.

READ ALSO: Police bust fentanyl supply chain, netting drugs, firearms, in Victoria and Lower Mainland

Ridge Meadows RCMP managed to take a significant amount of fentanyl off the street, as the detachment celebrated its largest ever seizure in August – it included more than 35,000 doses of suspected blue fentanyl, which had been linked to overdose deaths in the Lower Mainland.

Still, the grim statistics have been mounting. Through November there have been 1,548 deaths in B.C. in 2020, which is on pace to be the worst year ever, when there were 1,549 illicit drug toxicity deaths in B.C. in 2018.

The grim statistics continue to mount, as the overdose statistics for the final month of the year seem fated to make this the province’s and perhaps the city’s worst year ever.

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