Efforts being made to expand awareness. (THE NEWS/files)

Efforts being made to expand awareness. (THE NEWS/files)

Fentanyl-related deaths up by 30 per cent in Maple Ridge

Latest stats from BC Coroner’s Service

Another 26 people died in Maple Ridge from fentanyl-linked overdoses in 2017, says the B.C. Coroner’s Service, a 30-per-cent increase from 2016.

The number comes from year-end stats involving both fentanyl and illicit drug deaths throughout B.C., showing a total of 1,422 suspected drug fatalities in 2017, an increase of 43 per cent.

When it comes to fentanyl, Maple Ridge was lowest among the Top 10 cities in B.C. for fentanyl-detected deaths.

Vancouver had the highest number of such deaths in 2017 with 280. Abbotsford had 40 such deaths and Burnaby and Langley each had 32, while Kamloops had 31.

“It’s just scary how much it’s increased,” said Maple Ridge Coun. Craig Speirs.

“Fentanyl is the problem. It’s young men … between 19 and 59,” with most of those in their 30s, he added.

Complicating the issue is the increase in the numbers of men in the trades who became injured, then become addicted to prescription pain killers.

With those now being cut off, they’re turning to street drugs, Speirs said.

“We can’t carry on like this.”

Speirs said the provincial government now has a specific ministry (Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions) addressing the issue.

“I see no political will from the federal government, quite frankly.”

Kat Wahama, who lost a son to a fentanyl overdose, disagreed with the portrayal of needles on the ground as symbolizing an overdose.

Such a portrayal doesn’t reach those using in their homes and ingesting drugs without the use of needles, she said.

“They always show the picture of the needle on the ground. We’ll, again, people are in their homes. People who are at risk … don’t see themselves.”

She said after attending Monday’s open house on B.C. Housing’s supportive housing proposal for Burnett Avenue, that most people don’t have enough information on drug use and homelessness.

Wahama also disagrees with the term overdose, instead saying people are dying from poisoning from other drugs being contaminated with lethal doses of fentanyl.

“It’s a toxicity in the drug supply,” she said.

“It is not even a medical term, ‘overdose’ — it’s a cruel, cruel term,” Wahama added.

The 30-per-cent increase in fentanyl-related deaths in Maple Ridge is “unconscionable that that’s what the statistic is,” she said.

“These are preventable deaths and that is what’s so tragic.”

She questioned the federal government in not trying to stem the flow into Canada of fentanyl from overseas.

“I don’t know what they’re doing. If they’re doing something, I’d love to know.”

A B.C. Coroner’s Service news release said that 80 per cent of all overdoses happen to men and that 90 per cent of those deaths happened indoors and that none took place at a supervised consumption site.

The provincial government announced Thursday more help on the issue, with community action teams for 18 B.C. cities, including Maple Ridge.

The teams will focus on expanding harm-reduction services, increasing availability of naloxone, expanding drug-safety checking services and early intervention.

“I’m so pleased that Maple Ridge is one of the first communities to receive a community action team to help fight the overdose crisis that has affected so many families in our community. I am proud to be working with our new Minister of Mental Health and Addictions to bring new, life-saving resources for people to Maple Ridge,” Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Bob D’Eith said in a release Thursday.