Opioid overdoses and deaths have been steadily increasing in BC

Hillary Johnson

Opioid overdoses and deaths have been steadily increasing in BC, especially over the past couple of months. According to a BC Coroners Service report, there were 175 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths in July alone, which represents a 136 percent increase over the number of deaths recorded in July 2019. This number of illegal drug toxicity deaths in July equates to about 5.6 per day. Sixty-eight percent of those were aged 19 to 49, with males accounting for 79 percent of deaths in 2020. Northern Heath Medical Health Officer Rakel Kling says they have seen a sharp rise in overdoses and explains why the pandemic could be playing a role.

"There are a few reasons why we think that COVID-19 has had an impact. One of the first measures that were taken with all the borders closed and that interrupts drug routes and where drugs come from, and it's possible that local people might be getting creative on how to create drugs, which has led to a more toxic drug supply. The guidance for COVID-19 is to isolate and stay away from other people, which is contrary to what people who use drugs need."

Not only are overdose incidents increasing, but drug contamination is also a growing concern.

"In the North, we notice some increase in the contamination of opioid drugs with benzos, which is a downer drug. We have noticed it has been a lot harder to reverse their overdose. A lot more naloxone is needed. I'd advise people who use drugs get more naloxone than usual and be prepared to use more when reversing an overdose."

Signs someone might be experiencing an overdose include being non-responsive, slow breathing, or not breathing at all, making choking or gurgling noises, has blue lips or nails, small pupils and cold or clammy skin. Kling wants to encourage anyone in need of help to use harm reduction services available in their community.

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