Island Health has issued a health advisory after a substantial spike recently in fatal and non-fatal overdoses related to illicit drugs on the Island, and across B.C.
According to a report by the B.C. Coroners Service, a total of 113 people in B.C. died of suspected overdoses in March, which made it the deadliest month for overdoses in a year.
The overdoses in March were, on average across B.C., a 61 per cent increase from February, according to the report, and the increases occurred in every health authority in the province, with the spike in the Island Health region one of the highest at 80 per cent.
The report offers no breakdown of the different regions on Vancouver Island, including the Cowichan Valley but, overall, there were 11 overdose deaths on the Island in January, eight in February, and a whopping 18 in March.
Dr. Shannon Waters, the medical health officer for the Cowichan Valley, said there may be a connection between the spike in overdoses and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“But it’s difficult to say in such a short time span, and it will take time to determine if their are any trends in the longer term,” she said.
“The impacts of the pandemic in regards to social distancing and self isolation has affects on everyone, including those who use substances, and the risk factor for those who use drugs alone are exacerbated with social distancing. We’re trying to gather as much evidence as we can.”
Asked about the belief of some that the spike in overdose deaths may be connected to the money the senior levels of governments have been providing to help people and businesses through the health crisis, Waters said there is no evidence of that at this time.
“We do know there are individuals in the population who do use substances, and there is a lot of stress out there right now that causes some people to turn to drugs, but it’s too early to say right now what has caused the increase in overdose deaths,” she said.
“There may be other factors involved, but it’s too early to say right now.”
According to the coroner’s report, the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal Health Authorities have had the highest number of deaths due to overdoses (86 and 68 deaths, respectively) in 2020, making up 59 per cent of all such deaths in B.C. during this period.
The report also points out that from January through March, 86 per cent of overdose deaths in the province occurred inside, with 57 per cent in private residences and 29 per cent in other residences, and nine per cent occurred outside in vehicles, sidewalks, streets, parks and other areas.
“In 2020, 73 per cent of those dying were aged 19 to 49, while in 2019 and 2018, 68 per cent were in this age range,” the report said.
“Males accounted for 76 per cent of deaths in 2020 to date, consistent with 2019 (76 per cent) and slightly lower than in 2018 (80 per cent). No deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.”
According to Island Health’s health advisory, 911 should be called immediately if someone is overdosing, and those present should provide rescue breathing and give the victim naloxone if it’s available.
The advisory also recommends that drugs should be checked by personnel at the local overdose prevention site; users should try a little before taking their regular hit; users should take the drugs with a friend and, if alone, be close to help.