In January of 2021, 165 people died from overdose in British Columbia. (Paul Henderson/Progress file)

Editorial: Overdoses: the other health crisis

The latest numbers from January of this year tell us that 165 people died from drug overdoses

While COVID is still dominating the headlines, there’s another deadly menace that is claiming lives every day in B.C.

The latest numbers from January of this year tell us that 165 people died from drug overdoses in that month alone — setting a record. To put that in perspective, that’s more than five people dying each day in January from toxic drugs. January also marked 10 months straight in which more than 100 people have died each month from overdose in British Columbia.

By any measure, this is a crisis.

The number of people dying with extreme levels of fentanyl in their bodies has also gone up, and the even stronger carfentanil was detected in 14 of the deaths in January.

Also worrying is the increase in the number of people who have unprescribed benzodiazepines and its analogues, including etizolam (not licensed in Canada) in their systems when they overdose. These increase the likelihood of overdose because combined with fentanyl, they interfere with breathing.

If you think we’re seeing COVID fatigue, imagine what those fighting the overdose crisis are facing. Especially since it’s a crisis without a single clear fix. We will not get a vaccine and end the opioid crisis.

First, we have to try to stop people from dying. The province’s move to open up and run overdose prevention sites in many communities, including Duncan, has helped in this respect. No deaths have happened at these supervised sites.

The next thing that needs to happen, though, is not happening quickly. As has been done in a remarkably successful model in Portugal, the government needs to begin to distribute a safe supply, cutting off to a large degree the circulation of the poisoned and illegal drug supply.

Concurrently there needs to be work done to address the root causes of addiction, from mental health issues like depression, anxiety and stress, to abuse and trauma. We need to identify and address children and youth at risk.

And then there is the need for treatment, to help those who are ready to successfully leave drugs behind.

There is nothing simple about it. It is a complex and difficult problem that needs a complex, flexible and difficult solution. But as many continue to cling to antiquated and failed “war on drugs” notions that we should treat drug addiction as a criminal matter as well as some kind of moral failing, hundreds are dying around us. These old failed models are the habits we as a society have to kick in order to find some success in solving this problem.


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