Six of the city’s 11 overdoses in 2020 involved products with fentanyl. (THE NEWS/files)

Maple Ridge overdoses spike in first half of 2020

City consultant says federal handouts and fluctuations in local drug trade lead to deaths

The opioid overdose crisis continues to take its toll on the City of Maple Ridge.

There have been 11 illicit drug deaths in Maple Ridge from Jan. 1 to May 31 of 2020, according to numbers released last week by the B.C. Coroner’s Service.

The jump follows only 13 illicit drug deaths in all of 2019, after four straight years of 28 deaths or more.

Six of this year’s deaths involved products with fentanyl.

READ MORE: B.C. records highest ever number of fatal overdoses in May with 170 deaths

The trend is being seen across the province, with 170 fatal overdoses in the month of May – more deaths than have been recorded by COVID-19 in B.C. since the pandemic started.

Maple Ridge has the 13th highest total of fatalities in the province by community.

Rob Thiessen is a consultant currently working on the City of Maple Ridge’s Community Safety Plan. His career has seen him heavily involved with homeless outreach and addiction services.

He said an influx of federal financial support to individuals and fluctuations in the local drug trade have resulted in the spike.

“I predicted it when I learned [the federal government] was going to dump a bunch of money out there,” he said, arguing drug users who were able to acquire the Canada Emergency Response Benefit were not spending the $2,000 on food and shelter.

“I don’t know that many people understand the mind set of a person in active addiction,” he noted. “They don’t understand that [addicts] don’t necessarily make decisions that are based on any logic, and many of them use drugs to get to what they refer to as the sweet spot.”

Thiessen also pointed out the sweet spot might be more difficult to accurately predict with a different level of suppliers providing drugs directly to the streets.

“The low level drug dealers were out of business for a while because of supply levels, so mid-level drug dealers stepped in to do the selling,” Thiessen said.

“They don’t know how to cut it the same way the other level did, so it’s stronger.”

People with active drug addictions who have extra money now have access to abnormally strong product, which has lead to a major problem, Thiessen noted.

High instances of isolation due to COVID-19 have also played a role, he added.

“In order to try to achieve some separation and distance between people, those who were typically housed in shelters close together have been moved into some places where they are off by themselves,” Thiessen said.

“And unfortunately a person in active addiction likes to isolate and that alone can create an issue with safety, because people with the tools to help a person with an overdose aren’t necessarily close.”

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