In the first nine months of 2020, there have been 23 drug toxicity deaths in North Vancouver Island. Pixabay photo

In the first nine months of 2020, there have been 23 drug toxicity deaths in North Vancouver Island. Pixabay photo

Vancouver Island’s drug overdose emergency far from over

COVID-19 has exacerbated drug toxicity death rate

The most recent report from the BC Coroners Service indicates that a public health emergency in terms of drug overdose deaths is far from over.

According to statistics, there was a 112 per cent increase in the number of illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C. when comparing September 2019 to September 2020. The number jumped from 60 to 127, province-wide.

Statistics show that men, especially in the 30- to 59-year age bracket, account for most of the deaths.

Stigma, shame and gender conditioning are some of the reasons why men predominate the fatality statistics, says Shari Dunnet, project co-ordinator of the Comox Valley Community Action Team.

RELATED: New study calls for new approach to tackling overdose crisis

RELATED: COVID-19 contributes to spike in overdose deaths, experts say

Men who use substances tend to keep it hidden for fear of repercussions from employers or family members — which in turn leads to higher risk as they are more likely to use alone.

“This increases their risk tremendously as there is no intervention to reverse things should they overdose,” Dunnet said.

Gender conditioning, she notes, is also a barrier as men generally have a harder time than women when it comes to asking for help or supporting one another.

“Many men who use substances are fully employed and securely housed, and many work in the trades, hence the age range as well as gender,” Dunnet added.

The past decade has shown an alarming increase in the yearly number of drug toxicity deaths in B.C. In 2010, there were 211 deaths. By 2016 — the year the province declared a public health emergency — there were 991 deaths. The number peaked at 1,547 in 2018.

“We were starting to see some reduction in drug toxicity deaths (981) in 2019,” said Dr. Charmaine Enns, North Island medical health officer. “We weren’t back to baseline, but we were starting to see, finally, a downward curve. 2020, with our second public health emergency being COVID-19, reversed all of that, and more. If the drug toxicity death rate continues at the rate it has been, we are going to exceed our worst year to date, which was 2018.”

In North Vancouver Island, there were four illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2010. In 2017, the number had jumped to 37. In the first nine months of this year, there have been 23 drug toxicity deaths in the region.

“From my perspective, that’s 23 deaths that didn’t need to happen,” Enns said. “We’re four-and-a-half years into this public health emergency. COVID is our second public health emergency, which has been in place since March. So we have dual public health emergencies happening…This issue in terms of drug toxicity deaths is not going away.”

On average, she said more than four souls are being lost each day in B.C. due to toxicity levels in drugs.

The coroners report says no deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.

“But we’ve been reporting that for 4 1/2 years,” Enns said. “I think there’s a callout for us as citizens, as families, as loved ones, as friends, we need to really look out for each other in this time when people are isolating more.

“Isolation is a terrible thing for anyone on any given day, but it can be especially damaging for people who already feel isolated for other reasons. This is a significant contributor to why we’ve seen such an increase in drug toxicity deaths this past year.”

The issue crosses all levels of government, added Enns, who feels the federal government needs to decriminalize use.

“We’re criminalizing people for a chronic, relapsing medical condition. That’s not helpful in any way. We need to do a lot of things, and we all need to do what we have the power to influence.”

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

Just Posted

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits Nanoose Bay property

Experts say interesting look may simply be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

A Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation guardian took this photo of dozens of vehicles parked along a forest service road in the Kennedy watershed. (Submitted photo)
Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District looks at enforcement of illegal camping

ACRD currently does not have an existing bylaw service to tackle the issue

West Coast General Hospital in Port Alberni received some good news about an expansion to its emergency department on Jan. 15, 2021. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
B.C. health ministry commits $6.25M to hospital expansion in Port Alberni

Plans for larger emergency department have been on hold since 2015

Smaller egg farmers find themselves in a David and Goliath situation when it comes to major producers and chain-grocery store shelf space. (Citizen file)
Vancouver Island egg producer cries foul over ‘Island’ label

Egg farmer frustrated with regulations allowing mainland-laid eggs to be labelled ‘Island’

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

A still from surveillance footage showing a confrontation in the entranceway at Dolly’s Gym on Nicol Street on Friday morning. (Image submitted)
Troublemaker in Nanaimo fails at fraud attempt, slams door on business owner’s foot

VIDEO: Suspect causes pain and damage in incident downtown Friday morning

Johnathan Lee Robichaud pleaded guilty to eight charges including sex-related offences against children and accessing, possessing and making or publishing child pornography. (Courtesy of Saanich Police)
Sentencing date moved for Saanich nanny guilty of child porn charges

Johnathon Lee Robichaud pleaded guilty to eight sex offences against children

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Dr. Shannon Waters, the medical health officer for the Cowichan Valley Region, is reminding people to stay the course with COVID-19 measures. (File photo)
‘Stay the course’ with COVID measures, Island Health reminds

Limit social activity, wash hands, wear a mask, and isolate if you feel sick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Cowichan Tribes members line up at a drive-up clinic on Wednesday, Jan. 13 to receive the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the region. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
BCAFN condems racism against Cowichan Tribes after COVID-19 outbreak

“Any one of us could do everything right and still catch the virus”: Regional Chief Terry Teegee.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Most Read