The number of annual deaths due to overdose, is expected to exceed the previous provincial record of 1,549 fatalities in 2018. (Metro creative stock photo/Lakes District News)

The number of annual deaths due to overdose, is expected to exceed the previous provincial record of 1,549 fatalities in 2018. (Metro creative stock photo/Lakes District News)

Drug overdose deaths — a massive crisis amidst the pandemic

27,067 potential overdose-related 9-1-1 calls received in 2020

While the pandemic has been wreaking havoc over everyday lives, calls for overdoses and deaths caused by overdoses went up all throughout last year.

“Calls for overdoses spiked, and in July BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) dispatch staff and paramedics handled the highest number of overdose responses ever recorded in a single month. The final tally for 9-1-1 calls from someone suffering a potential overdose was 27,067; up 12 per cent over 2019,” said a news release issued by the health service.

For the Burns Lake area, the BCEHS received 18 calls in 2020 as opposed to 20 calls in 2019 while for Houston, the emergency health service saw a 100 per cent increase in calls with 22 calls received in 2020 as opposed to 11 in 2019.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry had said in a news conference that, “The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a devastating effect on the overdose crisis in B.C. Exacerbating this is the highly toxic drug supply that exists in our communities right now.”

Overdose deaths have also seen a sharp rise throughout the pandemic. The B.C. Coroners Service recorded 153 deaths in November 2020, from illicit drug overdose, a slight decrease compared to October’s 162 deaths taking the total overdose deaths to 1,548. The coroners service is yet to release data on the number of overdose deaths in 2020, but the number of annual deaths is expected to exceed the previous provincial record of 1,549 fatalities in 2018.

To put this in perspective, the pandemic has so far taken 1,240 lives since it started last year and deaths due to drug overdose have taken over 1,500 lives in 2020 alone.

When asked about the death toll for COVID-19 deaths as well as drug overdose deaths, local MLA John Rustad said, “First of all, it is very sad and shocking when you see the numbers. We have two health crisis going on in the province. I think quite frankly the approach that has been taken around overdose, in particular around addictions, needs complete rework. We need to be looking at more long-term treatment models where we are supporting not just people getting addiction but having a dedicated support system for them so they can get off drugs.”

“In many cases, the approach doesn’t provide the support in terms of why an individual maybe addicted to these drugs and is taking these drugs. So the approach has to look at those underlying causes and try to find ways to treat people like people. Try to find ways to get them healthy. The approach that has been taken around free drugs and reduction can be part of the solution but we need to be looking at a much larger suite of tools that focuses on individuals as opposed to a broad brush approach to the issue,” he said.

Priyanka Ketkar
Multimedia journalist

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