Pubdate: Thu, 01 Feb 2018
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2018 Times Colonist
Author: Katie DeRosa
Page: A4



Last year was "the most tragic year ever" for illicit drug overdose
deaths in B.C., prompting public health officials to push for the
decriminalization of opioid possession and consumption to address the
fentanyl epidemic.

In 2017, 1,422 people died of illicit drug overdose deaths, up from
993 in 2016, chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said Wednesday.

Victoria had the highest number of overdose deaths on Vancouver Island
with 91, behind Vancouver (358) and Surrey (174).

Lapointe said the epidemic in B.C. is "related to uncontrolled illicit

The powerful opioid was detected in 81 per cent of the illicit drug
deaths, up from 67 per cent in 2016, according to preliminary data
from B.C. Coroners Service. The drug, which is 100 times stronger than
heroin or morphine, is being smuggled into Canada from China and mixed
into street drugs.

Carfentanil - up to 1,000 times stronger than fentanyl - was detected
in 64 illicit drug overdose deaths between June and December 2017.

Provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall said the increase in
illicit drug deaths shows "we are still in the midst of a persistent
and continuing epidemic of unintentional poisoning deaths."

First-responders are saving hundreds of lives a day, Kendall said, but
"hundreds more are still dying, most often alone and with no one
nearby to act or intervene when things go wrong."

Solutions to the epidemic will be found outside "our comfort zone,"
said Kendall, referring to a suggestion by Dr. Mark Tyndall of the
B.C. Centre for Disease Control to provide hydromorphone, an opioid
painkiller also known as Dilaudid, through vending machines.

Kendall said he's also encouraged by the debate raised this week when
the national Liberal caucus called on the federal government to
eliminate criminal penalties for simple possession and consumption of
all illicit drugs.

However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has so far ruled out
legalization of drugs other than cannabis.

"At the very least, we should be working to decriminalize the
individuals who are at risk in this epidemic," Kendall said.

The Liberal caucus is proposing that Canada adopt a model used in
Portugal. Since 2001, Portugal has expanded treatment and
harm-reduction services, such as safe injection sites, and eliminated
criminal penalties for simple possession and consumption of all
illegal drugs.

A person found in possession of a drug for personal use must appear
before a "dissuasion commission" that can make referrals to treatment
programs or impose administrative sanctions.

According to Europe's drug monitoring agency, Portugal now has a drug
mortality rate of three overdose deaths per million citizens, compared
with the European Union average of 17.3.

Dr. Patricia Daly, head of the B.C. Overdose Emergency Response
Centre, said even if possession and consumption of drugs were
decriminalized today, "it would take too long to make a difference in
this particular crisis."

The centre is focusing on increasing distribution of naloxone, which
reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, and expanding technology
that allows drug users to test drugs for the presence of fentanyl, she

Daly said that while the overdose numbers are "sobering," the rate of
increase from 2016 to 2017 was not as large as in the previous year,
when illicit overdose deaths nearly doubled to 993 from 513.

She also noted that 33 fewer people died per month in the last four
months of 2017 than in the first eight months of the year (96.5
compared with 129.5).

Public health officials do not have an explanation for the drop in
deaths, Daly said, but it could be due to the prevalence of naloxone,
the expansion of overdose prevention sites or an increase in the
number of people on opioid-replacement therapy such as methadone or

Naloxone kits were used 14,000 times in B.C. to reverse the effects of
an overdose, she said.

About 88 per cent of illicit drug overdose deaths occurred inside,
mostly in private residences. Reducing the stigma around drug use is
an important step in preventing people from using alone, Daly said.

No deaths occurred at any supervised consumption site, which shows the
success of harm-reduction efforts.

In December 2016, the B.C. Coroners Service created an overdose death
investigation team to look into the circumstances of each death and
come up with solutions to reduce the death toll.

An analysis of those investigations is underway, Lapointe said, and a
preliminary analysis could be released in the next few months.

- - With files from The Canadian Press
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt