Overdose deaths spike in British Columbia

Written by By Sam Scott, for CNN

“It is unimaginable that this is still happening today,” says Fiona Wight, an emergency medicine physician at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), an arm of the provincial government.

B.C. has been hit hard by the opioid crisis, with almost 3,500 confirmed or suspected overdose deaths in 2017. Of those, more than 1,300 were opioid-related.

As of the end of June, the BCCDC has confirmed and recorded 1,041 accidental opioid-related overdose deaths, following 742 suspected fatal overdoses at the same time last year.

In these newly recorded cases, authorities say they don’t know exactly what drug played a role. But they’ve identified one consistent theme: a resurgence of deadly synthetic drugs in the form of fentanyl.

Photos from near-fatal overdoses on the weekend of July 28

The fentanyl levels have been consistent across the province, says Wight. “It has been a theme of opioid-related overdose deaths in B.C. for several years, and we anticipate that it will be for some time to come.”

“There is strong evidence to show that more than half of all opioids that get into B.C. in the illicit drug supply are fentanyl-laced drugs. So what we are seeing are really tragic developments in the opioid crisis.”

The rising death toll has caused alarm in Canada, prompting a variety of government responses.

Last week, the National Advisory Council on Preventing Misuse of Controlled Drugs and Substances, a branch of Health Canada, released a report calling for a number of reform proposals. It called for expanded access to prescription opioid medications for pain, better evidence collection on the use of opioids and a mandatory testing program to identify narcotics with the highest levels of intoxication.

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Still, Wight says it’s difficult to know exactly how effective any of the measures will be. “We don’t have all the information available that our counterparts have for our counterparts in other jurisdictions,” she says.

Even with better information, she says the need for clinical trials, involving many thousands of people, is compelling. “That’s what we are required to do by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to get FDA approval.”

Local organizations continue to push for funding. On July 27, Vancouver’s mayor, Gregor Robertson, met with Christy Clark, Premier of British Columbia. The mayor implored the premier to fully fund public education and to fund treatment.

Further complicating the situation is the fact that British Columbia is under tremendous pressure from financial projections and other factors, according to the BCCDC. A National Assembly meeting in April planned to provide the province with additional funding for opioid addiction programs has yet to materialize.

As Wight puts it: “A lot of the actions that are being proposed are things that I’m not sure we can actually implement.”

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