WATCH: Shocking new numbers show there’s been a staggering 75 per cent increase in fatal drug overdoses this year, making overdoses the leading cause of death in B.C. aside from natural causes. Tess van Straaten reports.
Ambulances have become a common sight in parts of downtown Victoria, as the city deals with a huge spike in drug overdose deaths.
“You get dead to it,” says a man outside Our Place who just goes by the name Joey. “I’ve lost so many people in the last few years you get numb to it.”
The latest numbers are truly shocking: 308 fatal drug overdoses in British Columbia between January and May, compared to just 176 in the same period last year.
“That’s an increase of almost 75 per cent and it’s worth noting that last year’s numbers were distressingly high,” says Barb McLintock of the B.C. Coroners Service.
Victoria had 24 accidental OD’s, compared to just 17 in all of 2015.
Nanaimo’s had 19 deaths and province-wide, we’re averaging almost 62 illicit drug overdose deaths a month.
“This is hugely significant,” says chief coroner Lisa LaPointe. “The number of people dying from illicit drug overdoses is higher than any other unnatural category so other than natural deaths, illicit drug overdoses are the next highest.”
Higher than car crashes and on track to surpass suicides — but officials still don’t know why so many people are dying.
“In about 56 per cent of the drug overdose deaths, fentanyl was at least detected so that’s obviously a significant part of the problem but not the whole problem,” says McLintock.
Most of the fatalities are regular drug users, which is surprising because they usually know their limits — but not anymore.
“The addicts no longer know what dosage is correct so when they need that fix, they’re after it right away, sometimes you only need to take a quarter of the amount because it’s so much stronger,” says Grant McKenzie of Our Place.
In April, B.C. declared the epidemic a public health emergency and the health minister says we need to be vigilant.
“We need to continue to find ways and means of making sure that we control this public health emergency and try to keep people safe,” health minister Terry Lake says.
The only good news is that the number of fatalities last month were back to 2014 and 2015 numbers but whether the worst is over, remains to be seen.