Pubdate: Thu, 13 Apr 2017
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Dan Fumano
Page: 4


In 2016, 11 regions have gone beyond 15 overdose deaths, medical
officials say

Health experts painted a grim picture Wednesday morning as they
updated Vancouver's mayor and council on an ongoing opioid crisis that
has spread from its "epicentre" in the Downtown Eastside to touch
every part of the province.

Provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall addressed a sombre
Vancouver council chamber Wednesday, almost a year to the day after he
announced a public health emergency in response to what he called at
the time, "the recent surge of overdoses."

In the 12 months since last April's emergency announcement, Kendall
said Wednesday that the crisis has continued to escalate, with a
"startling" increase in overdoses late last year, and the first months
of this year appearing on-track to surpass last year's death tolls.

Last year saw a "shocking, unprecedented" number of overdose deaths
across B.C., said Vancouver's deputy city manager, Paul Mochrie, with
922 people dying from illicit drugs, or roughly three times the number
killed in motor-vehicle accidents.

And while the province's largest city saw the lion's share of last
year's overdose deaths, the impacts of synthetic opioids like fentanyl
and carfentanil have been felt far beyond Vancouver's city limits, as
Wednesday's presentation made clear.

Rates of overdose deaths per capita increased dramatically in every
part of the province last year, including Vancouver Island, the
Interior and northern B.C.

In 2015, Vancouver was the only one of B.C.'s 18 health regions
recording more than 15 overdose deaths per 100,000 people, the
presentation showed.

In 2016, 11 regions reached that level or higher.

Dr. Patricia Daly, Vancouver Coastal Health's chief medical officer,
told council: "The only other declaration of a public health emergency
for overdose deaths was in Vancouver in the '90s, and it was localized
in Vancouver."

The current emergency, Daly said, "has affected every area of the

Fentanyl wasn't the problem in the 1990s, when the drugs of choice in
the DTES were injectable cocaine and heroin, and almost half of the
area's 6,000-10,000 drug addicts were believed to be infected with
HIV, The Vancouver Sun reported in 1997.

Out of that emergency in the late 1990s, Daly said Wednesday, some of
Vancouver's pioneering, harm-reduction strategies were born, including
Insite, North America's first supervised injection facility that has
saved not only lives, but millions of dollars in cost savings every
year, according to a Canadian Medical Association Journal study.

Vancouver's early adoption of harm-reduction strategies reduced the
number of deaths from overdose and HIV, Daly said.

But now, as other parts of the province try to follow Insite's
example, Daly said, they're waiting for permission from Ottawa, a
process she called "far too slow."

Four of B.C.'s five regional health authorities have applications
pending with the federal government for approval to run supervised
drug-consumption sites in Vancouver, Surrey, Victoria, Kamloops and
Kelowna. But, Daly said, "a year into this crisis there's been no new
ones approved to date. That needs to change."

Northern Health is B.C.'s only regional authority currently without a
supervised consumption-site application pending. Northern Health
spokeswoman Andrea Palmer said Wednesday the region was exploring the
option, and "we are engaging with stakeholders as we explore a
submission for a supervised consumption site."

The federal government has acknowledged the slow process, and in
December, Health Canada announced Bill C-37, which would "repeal the
previous, burdensome legislative regime for establishing supervised
consumption sites by streamlining the application process."

Andrew MacKendrick, press secretary for federal Health Minister Jane
Philpott, said: "The current process, under the previous government's
legislation, is very cumbersome."

MacKendrick couldn't say when to expect decisions on B.C.'s seven
pending applications, but said the government hoped to work through
them as quickly as possible.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt