Today is International Overdose Awareness Day. British Columbia is deeply affected by the global opioid crisis, accounting for 5,000 of the 15,000 overdose-related deaths in Canada since BC declared the crisis a public health emergency in 2016. In the last three months, BC has seen over 170 overdose-related deaths on a monthly basis - the highest statistics in years. Stigma, in addition to COVID-19 imposed restrictions, namely, social distancing, are being consider by public health experts as potential contributing factors to the steep increase in overdose deaths.
Since January 2020, First Nations overdose deaths in BC have nearly doubled when compared to the same time period in 2019. A First Nations person is also 5 times more likely to die of an overdose in BC in comparison to the general population. The Regional Chief calls on the Government of Canada to decriminalize illicit drugs in order to de-stigmatize drug use and encourage access to substance use-related services. Additionally, funding for prevention, detox, safe consumption sites, and culturally appropriate detox and treatment centres are desperately needed from federal and provincial governments to combat the opioid crisis.
It is not only an individual responsibility, but also a community duty to keep those who use drugs safe. Regardless of a person’s status as a drug user or not, everyone’s life is valuable and deserves to be protected. BCAFN urges the public to receive training to administer Naloxone (Narcan), which reverses an opioid overdose. If you suspect an overdose, call 9-1-1, and follow the SAVE ME steps. It is time to de-stigmatize drug use and provide care to those in our lives who use substances.
"At this time, we are fighting two pandemics. Skyrocketing drug overdose deaths caused by a toxic drug supply overshadow the COVID-19 fatalities in BC; sadly, the work we’ve done in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the drastic increase in overdose deaths. If you are using, or you know someone who is using illicit substances, practice and advocate for use in the presence of someone else. Supervised drug injection sites or drug overdose prevention sites throughout B.C. can check substances for toxicity and/or monitor substance consumption to prevent fatal overdoses. Please do not use alone or share needles. Carry a naloxone kit to reverse an overdose, in case you do witness one. We need drastic change in drug policies and laws - the decriminalization drugs, provision of a safe supply for users and erasure of the stigma surrounding substance use are immediate measures that can be taken to reduce deaths from the poisoned drug supply in BC. I would like to send my condolences to all families and communities that have been impacted by this terrible crisis."