Victoria overdoses down 41 per cent but BC Coroner urges caution

WatchIt's been more than three years since B.C.'s provincial health officer declared a public emergency in response to a rise in drug overdose deaths. And now there is some promising news in the ongoing crisis. April Lawrence reports.

Thursday was Shelby Askins 25th birthday. The Victoria man spent the majority of his young life in B.C.’s foster system.

“I tried my best to like you know put myself in a good direction and they kept moving me from home to home to home,” he said.

Askins has been using drugs since he was 19 and has lost a lot to the overdose crisis.

“Acquaintances probably hundreds, friends I’ve lost probably around 10 to 20 friends,” he said.

It’s been an unprecedented few years but finally, there is some promising news in the battle against illicit drug deaths in a new report released Thursday.

In 2018 B.C. averaged about 128 illicit drug deaths every month. So far this year it’s 82 per month, a drop of 36 per cent.

On Vancouver Island, there were 204 deaths in the first 10 months of 2018 compared to 132 so far this year, a decrease of 35 per cent.

And in Victoria in the first 10 months of 2018 there were 81 deaths compared to 48 in 2019, a drop of 41 per cent.

That works out to roughly 8 deaths each month in 2018 compared to 5 deaths per month in 2019.

Some say it’s proof B.C.’s overdose prevention sites, drug testing, and naloxone training are working. Others say it’s that people are finally getting the message.

“I think it’s taken a while for that message to go beyond the street, for that message to reach into people’s homes, for teenagers and young adults to understand the drugs are that dangerous,” said Grant McKenzie, Director of Communications for Our Place Society.

But overdose is still the leading cause of death in B.C. with 823 people dying in the first ten months of this year alone.

“We want to get it so that number is zero,” said McKenzie.

And paramedics are still responding to 64 non-fatal overdoses each day in B.C. And those can have long-term health consequences.

“If you suffer a brain injury from an overdose, lack of oxygen to the brain, that we haven’t really accounted for or predicted what that’s going to look like,” said BC Coroners Office spokesperson Andy Watson.

Watson says there is a lot more work to be done including pushing for access to a safe drug supply and continuing to reduce the stigma around drug use.

“A lot of people that are on drugs are actually good people and they’re going through some hard times and they need a helping hand,” said Askins.


April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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