Two people die of a drug overdose every day in B.C., and almost three every month in Maple Ridge.
With drug overdose deaths at emergency levels, the Fraser Health Authority will be considering supervised consumption services in Lower Mainland cities, among many measures.
The most recent statistics from the B.C. Coroners Service show the number of illicit drug overdose deaths in the province is still alarming, and that the synthetic opioid fentanyl is a killer.
There were 433 apparent illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C. from January until the end of July, a 74 per cent increase over the 249 deaths over the same period in 2015.
Fentanyl was involved in 62 per cent of those deaths. Last year, the number was 30 per cent, and in 2012 it was five per cent.
Of the 433 fatal overdoses this year, the regions of the coroners service that include the Lower Mainland had the most with 244.
Nineteen deaths have occurred in Maple Ridge, compared to 27 for all of last year. The city is on pace for 33 overdose deaths in 2016.
Tasleem Juma of Fraser Health said there were 43 overdoses in Surrey on one weekend in July, caused by crack cocaine laced with fentanyl.
That got B.C.’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Perry Kendall talking publicly about the need for supervised consumption sites.
“It’s certainly something we are looking at in our big-picture strategy,” confirmed Juma.
She said there is nothing specific in the works, and most of the discussion so far has concerned Surrey.
However, she said health officials will look at cities where the need is greatest, and begin the conversation with the municipality and stakeholders.
Juma said it is possible to have a supervised consumption service without a full facility like the Insite Supervised Injection Site that opened in Vancouver 13 years ago. Instead, it could be offered in a facility where other health services are available.
Mayor Nicole Read said the number of overdoses in Maple Ridge have health officials considering supervised consumption here.
“We are a concerning city,” she said.
But the mayor would rather see programs aimed at keeping youth away from drugs.
“We keep fighting fires in this province, and the cities are asked to get on the ground and help fighting fires,” she said. “But I need to see the investment in upstream care. Invest in youth. What are you doing to stop our youth from entering those pathways?”
Keeping teens and young adults from using drugs has been a focus point for the city’s Maple Ridge Resilience Initiative, and specifically the Strong Kids Team.
“Our kids are overdosing because they try things one time – that’s really frightening for parents,” said Read.
Fraser Health is beginning an overdose awareness public campaign, and messaging that “Overdoses don’t discriminate” will be found at bus shelters, community centres and in other public places across the region over the comings weeks.
“There’s a lot of work happening,” said Juma
That work is being done by health providers, law enforcement, the coroners service, first responders and other partners throughout B.C.
Fraser Health is also expanding the availability of naloxone, a life-saving antidote to opioids such as fentanyl and heroin.
Fraser Health is also working to make naloxone nasal spray kits available, and to expand the training and provision of kits to include additional professions and organizations.
More than 50 emergency departments throughout B.C. are now giving naloxone kits to patients who have been treated for an opioid overdose and may be at risk for another.
Senior government is working to restrict access to pill presses and tableting machines, limiting access to the materials used to manufacture fentanyl and escalating charges for the importation and trafficking of fentanyl.
The province wants to establish a testing service to help people find out if their drugs contain adulterants, including fentanyl.
In April 2016, Dr. Kendall and Health Minister Terry Lake declared a public health emergency in response to the opioid overdose crisis. Since then, more information on overdose events has helped the health system and other partners identify what strategies will be most effective in preventing and responding to opioid overdoses.