In June, drug overdoses claimed the lives of four people in the North Island, the area with the second-highest rate of illicit substance fatalities in the province, according to new figures from the BC Coroners Service.
High overdose rates show that a lot of work remains to be done in responding to the opioid crisis, says Charmaine Enns, medical health officer for northern Vancouver Island.
“(W)e still have a significant amount of work to do both in responding and in understanding how to best support people who live in smaller cities or rural communities that use substances so that they are not using alone and that they are aware of the increasing amount of services and therapies,” Enns said in an email on Monday.
“The larger community has made progress in their understanding of this crisis but there continues to be barriers of stigma and assumptions.”
|A map from the Ministry of Health shows the North Vancouver Island Health Service Delivery Area.|
The latest BC Coroners Service report on illicit drug deaths says 19 people died in the North Vancouver Island health service delivery area by the end of June. The previous report said 15 had died by the end of May.
The data includes confirmed and suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths, including street drugs, unprescribed medications and combinations of the two.
Last year was the deadliest on record in the ongoing opioid crisis, with more than 1,530 deaths province-wide, compared to about 200 in 2019.
The report states that North Vancouver Island has the second-highest per capita rate of overdose deaths in B.C., with 30.2 per 100,000 people. The area with the highest rate of overdose deaths is Vancouver, with 41.9 deaths per 100,000 people. The provincial average is 21.9 deaths per 100,000 people.
Overall, there were 73 suspected drug toxicity deaths in June across B.C., a 35 per cent decline compared to the same month in 2018.
“Overall the latest BC Coroner report is encouraging in terms of a sustained downward provincial trend in the rate of overdose deaths,” Enns said.
“However, we need to remember that this rate is far in excess of what we were experiencing in 2009, (when) the provincial rate was 4.6 (overdose) deaths per 100,000 population. Our goal is to get as close to zero deaths as possible.”
The province is divided into 16 health service delivery areas. The North Vancouver Island area includes the Comox Valley–north and an adjacent section of mainland.
While Island Health has seen a decline in the rate of overdose deaths, this is not the case in northern Vancouver Island, Enns said. She cautioned that rates in sparsely-populated areas are sensitive to a smaller number of events, making them harder to interpret.
“However, it is important to remember that every person who dies related to (the overdose) crisis is significant and matters and it is not just about rates,” she said.
Illicit fentanyl, alone or in combination with other drugs, was detected in 83 per cent of deaths this year, and in about 87 per cent of deaths in 2018, according to the BC Coroners Service report.
The report also notes that the vast majority of overdose deaths take place indoors. So far this year, 57 per cent occurred in private homes and 30 per cent in other residences, such as social housing, hotels and shelters.
No deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or overdose prevention sites. Naloxone training, kits and supervised drug consumption services are offered at the AIDS Vancouver Island office in downtown Campbell River, located at 1371C Cedar St.
Its hours of operation are 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Sunday and statutory holidays.