130 overdoses in one day has B.C. premier, addiction expert sounding alarm

Advocates, researchers calling for more effort to reduce opioid crisis in British Columbia

One of British Columbia’s top addiction experts joined Premier John Horgan Monday in calling for increased efforts to fight the ravages of illegal drug use after a report of 130 overdoses in one day last week.

Horgan said he’s thankful there were no deaths from any of the overdoses reported on Friday, but the staggering number reveals the amount of work ahead to battle the crisis.

Dr. Evan Wood, director at the BC Centre on Substance Use, said the unofficial number of overdose cases was likely much higher last Friday as injection site volunteers, public and private citizens and other drug users helped others in distress.

“If there were 130 ambulance calls, you could image there were many other overdoses where there were other drug users offering naloxone or service workers providing naloxone,” he said.

READ MORE: B.C. paramedics respond to five overdose calls an hour Friday

Naloxone, widely available in British Columbia, is a life-saving medication that can stop or reverse an opioid overdose.

BC Emergency Health Services said paramedics responded to 130 suspected overdose calls on July 27, a statistic only seen once before in April of last year.

The service said in a statement on Twitter that news about the high number of overdoses should be made widely known and it urged drug users not to use substances alone.

“To think that happened 130 times last week on one day is staggering for the public and speaks to the amount of work we have to do to get this scourge out of our cities and out of our province,” Horgan said. “With respect to the timing of this latest rash of overdoses, it strikes me these numbers are unprecedented, and our job is to make sure we’re doing more in the days ahead.”

The premier said the province is working to ensure paramedics have the tools to help people who overdose and that recovery facilities are able to help addicts to receive the care they need quickly.

Wood said he agrees with Horgan that more needs to be done to battle the overdose crisis.

“We need more of everything in terms of what the premier is saying,” said Wood. “We need more effective harm-reduction services. The big gap is being able to go into harm-reduction services and steer people to get them off toxic opioids.”

He said the wider health-care system itself must turn towards addiction treatment after decades of unfocused attention.

“In the same way that primary care physicians can see somebody who has high blood pressure or who has become pregnant or who has diabetes they need to be able to say, ‘OK, I know exactly what we need to do,’ ” said Wood. “It took a long time to get into this mess and it’s going to be some time to get out of it.”

The latest BC Coroners Service provincial overdose numbers posted on June 25 included 109 suspected illicit drug overdose deaths in May, a figure 23 per cent lower than the overdose deaths for May 2017.

The Coroners Service stated there were 620 suspected overdose deaths up to the end of May this year. There were 1,449 overdose deaths in B.C. in 2017, the Coroners Service reported.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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