As the province looks at increasingly tragic numbers of people losing their lives to illicit drug overdoses, Maple Ridge has seen its numbers trending down.
The BC Coroner’s Service reported Tuesday there were 175 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths in B.C. in July, which is a huge increase over the 74 deaths in July of 2019.
It was also the third straight month where drug deaths surpassed 170 in the province. There have been 900 deaths so far in 2020.
The Coroner’s Service lists data by township – cities and their surrounding areas. The Maple Ridge township’s 16 drug deaths is the second lowest listed, second only to Fort St. John of the 15 townships.
There were 13 overdose deaths in 2019 in Maple Ridge, which followed four years where the city had averaged 30.
The lowered numbers coincide with new homeless shelter facilities opening in the city, providing housing There were 53 suites opened in temporary modular homes on Royal Crescent in October 2018. Then a second supportive housing complex, Garibaldi Ridge, opened on Burnett Street in September 2019. It has 51 units.
Both are operated by Coast Mental Health. Alouette Heights is another 46 home facility operated by Coast Mental Health in Maple Ridge.
Darrell Burnham, CEO of Coast Mental Health, said the staff at the facilities are all trained to administer naloxone, and have it on site. They regularly have to deal with drug overdoses, he said, although not as often as a weekly occurrence.
At all three facilities there are also supervised use rooms where people who are going to use drugs alone can be checked on by staff. People are discouraged from ever using alone.
He added that outreach teams from Fraser Health are also ensuring people who live outdoors have access to naloxone.
But Naloxone is not the solution, he said. Rather, the government has to do more.
“The opioid crisis in B.C. is terrifying,” he said. “Even with naloxone it’s a crap shoot.”
Administering the opioid blocker still leaves up to chance whether the drug can be administered on time, and whether it will work. It does not prevent a fatal overdose 100 per cent of the time.
Burnham said the province needs to look more at abstinence treatment, and at substitution treatment using drugs that are safer than street drugs, such as hydromorphone.
And, he said, the government should also consider the harm that is done by making drug addicts rely on an illegal supply, as opposed to a controlled substance that could be managed.
“You have a supply where you don’t really know what people are taking,” he said.
Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, said the pandemic is also impacting illicit drug users. She said social isolation, disconnection from community and in-person supports, financial pressures, growing mental health challenges, and a drug supply that is becoming more toxic are all factors.
“COVID-19 measures continue to have devastating, unintended consequences for people who use substances. A heart-wrenching 175 people lost their lives in July due to an illegal drug supply that is more toxic than it has ever been in B.C. These were treasured friends, neighbours, partners, parents and children. The vast majority were men between the ages of 19 and 49. Some were fathers. They were people from all walks of life who cared deeply about their families and the people they loved.”