OUR VIEW: Overdose death numbers prove that change is needed. Now.

British Columbia experienced another record year of drug overdose deaths in 2018 with at least one person dying on all but 11 days.

Those are the devastating numbers released by the BC Coroners Service. They show that despite all the efforts made to raise awareness about the dangers, too many people are still dying.

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The death rate is another tragic record number, although it has perhaps reached a plateau, as the percentage jump is minimal compared with previous years. In 2018, there were 1,489 suspected illicit drug overdose deaths, compared with 1,487 in 2017.

In Burnaby, the number of drug overdose deaths dropped – slightly – to 43 from 44.

“The illicit drug supply is unpredictable and unmanageable, and fentanyl is now implicated in 86 per cent of overdose deaths,” BC Coroners Service chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said.

But, she stressed, 77 per cent of the deaths are of regular users, which could serve as a warning to people who might want to use drugs recreationally, but are at risk of not getting what they think they’re buying on the street.

Lapointe said the illicit drug fatality rate now far exceeds the motor vehicle suicide and homicide death rates combined.

By the numbers, most deaths involve males using alone in private residences. This is why so much effort has been put into raising awareness about not using when you are alone.

In 2018, 71 per cent of people those were aged 30 to 59. Males accounted for 80 per cent of all suspected overdose deaths.

So, apart from what’s being currently done, what changes can be made to government policy to save lives?

The province’s chief medical health officer says the numbers indicate the time has arrived to deliver access to regulated opioids to those at risk.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the numbers continue to be distressing.

She said work to prevent deaths continues, with 140,000 naloxone kits to reverse opioid overdoses distributed and overdose prevention sites and drug-testing services now available.

But it’s not enough, she said. What’s needed is access to a regulated, clean supply of drugs so users can stay alive and possibly move toward treatment and recovery.

There is heavy resistance to this idea from the “just say no” crowd. Clearly, that approach isn’t working. It’s time to have a public debate to stop this epidemic.


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