There were 134 overdose deaths due to illicit drug overdoses in July, as the latest data from the BC Coroners Service show how volatile the opioid crisis can be.
The deaths mark a 12-per-cent increase over the same month last year, and a 25-per-cent uptick from June. It equates to four deaths per day.
The highest numbers of deaths – about 35 – were recorded in July’s income assistance week.
Since 2009, 40 per cent more people have died on what many call Welfare Wednesday and the days that follow, B.C. Centre for Substance Use research scientist Lindsey Richardson told Black Press Media.
“What we know is that when people have more money, they spend more, and that’s for everyone,” she said.
Richardson, who’s also an associate sociology professor at UBC, has been conducting a study on what would happen if the province were to split the one income assistant cheque into two every month, or not making the payments one universal day province-wide.
“One of the things unique to substance use is that while there is an individual effect everyone has when they get paid, there’s also a social effect. Substance use often has social cues that prompt people to use more than they otherwise would.”
Factors being taken into account are people’s reliance on the monthly cheque to pay rent, pay back their drug dealers and other bills.
The experiment, which involves about 100 people, is in its third year. Data won’t be conclusive until early next year.
Downward trend brings slim hope
July’s overdose death toll followed a four-month downward trend. Each month saw a slight relief compared to the same month in 2017.
Richardson said British Columbians is trying to hang on to any bit of good news.
“If we have a good month or two, it’s encouraging. But I think we can’t lose the forest for the trees here,” she said. “Rates might be decreasing month over month, but the rates overall are higher than they are for 2017.”
The three cities to see the most deaths were Vancouver, with 231 so far this year, Surrey with 125, and Victoria with 56.
“In terms of people thinking it’s just a problem on the Downtown Eastside, the coroner’s data is province-wide,” she added.
“People might be tired about hearing about it, and they might not want another news story about how awful the situation is. We’re really talking about people’s lives right now.”