Maple Ridge has the fewest number of overdose deaths in the first eight months this year, compared to 14 other B.C. cities.
So far, from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, 10 people have died in Maple Ridge, from street drugs. The numbers come from the BC Coroner’s Service monthly report, Illicit Drug Toxicity Deaths in B.C., which says that 85 per cent of such overdoses in 2019 contained fentanyl.
Last year in Maple Ridge, which includes Pitt Meadows for the Coroner’s Service purposes, the death toll in approximately the same period was twice as high, with 20 people dead between January and September of 2018.
Penticton and Vernon, with smaller populations, saw 12 and 11 deaths, respectively, according to the current stats which list the 15 cities in B.C. seeing the highest number overdoses.
The cities with the highest number of deaths continue to be Vancouver, where 182 people have died so far this year from overdoses.
Surrey had the second highest with 86 while Victoria had 35 fatal overdoses from January to August.
Dr. Ingrid Tyler, medical health officer with Fraser Health, though noted the numbers reflect a provincewide decrease in overdose deaths. The rate provincewide is now 20 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to 30 the previous two years.
“We have seen a drop in overdose deaths in 2019 compared to 2018, overall, across the province. So it’s not necessarily specific to Maple Ridge,” Tyler said.
But she there’s no one definitive reason to explain that. It could be because of greater awareness and comfort in using the Naloxone antidote for overdoses and greater awareness of the poison drug supply.
She noted that the number of overdoses keeps rising, “but it’s very encouraging that we’re seeing less deaths.”
In all of 2018, 29 people died in Maple Ridge from overdoses. Over the last four years, (2015 to 2018) an average of 30 people a year have died from overdoses in this city.
The report also notes similar stats from previous periods, saying that so far this year, 86 per cent of the deaths in B.C. occurred indoors, with 56 per cent of those taking place in private homes, while 31 per cent of the deaths occurred in social or supportive housing, single rooms, shelters or hotels.
Susan Hancock, with Coast Mental Health, said there have been no overdose deaths in the three supportive housing complexes it operates in Maple Ridge, Alouette Heights on Brown Avenue, Garibaldi Ridge on Burnett Street and the temporary modulars on Royal Crescent.
However, residents have died in those facilities from chronic, long-term medical conditions, she added.
Only 12 per cent of those deaths occurred outdoors such as on streets, parks or in vehicles. There were no deaths at supervised consumption sites.
Also stated, is that more deaths occurred during the week of income assistance payments.
The B.C. Coroner’s Service also reported on specific fentanyl detected overdoses but Maple Ridge is not within the top 15 B.C. cities for such deaths.
Kat Wahamaa, with Ridge Meadows Overdose Community Action Team, said it’s wonderful news, a result of harm reduction efforts, but she’s worried about Ontario and Alberta where there’s political opposition to such measures.
“Being cautiously optimistic is a good thing but I also believe that it’s not necessarily a trend in the rest of the country because they’re still on the uptake in terms of things we’ve already learned here.”
Supervised consumption sites, Naloxone availability and people being trained and and more aware, a safe supply, and opioid substitutes can reduce deaths.
“Those are things that we need to do to see the numbers improve. My concern is these things are not necessarily being instituted in other provinces and … it’s like starting all over again.
“Unfortunately, when we have policy that’s driven by ideology, as opposed to science, that’s when we run into these problems.”
She added that it’s good that Maple Ridge is at the bottom of the list but there’s so much more to do.
Men have a greater chance of dying from a drug overdose. Seventy-seven per cent of those who died in overdose deaths so far this year are men.
The Coroners Service also points out that deaths from cocaine and heroine have declined in the past six years, while the percentage of deaths from fentanyl have jumped from five to 90 per cent from 2012 to 2018.
Last year, the Ridge Meadows Overdose Community Action Team, formerly the Maple Ridge opioid working group, received funding of $100,000 from Mental Health and Addictions to help fight addiction and overdoses.