In 2015, there were 474 illicit drug overdoses in B.C., marking a 30 per cent increase in just one year.
At this rate, B.C. could see an astounding 700 to 800 drug overdose deaths this year, according to Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall.
This significant increase in drug-related overdoses and deaths has prompted Kendall to declare a public health emergency, which is the first time the PHO has served notice under the Public Health Act to exercise emergency powers.
British Columbia, in fact, will be the first province to take this kind of action in response to a public health crisis from drug overdoses.
“The recent surge in overdoses is a huge concern for us,” Health Minister Terry Lake said.
“We have to do what’s needed to prevent overdoses and deaths, and what’s needed is real-time information. Medical health officers need immediate access to what’s happening and where so they can deploy the necessary strategies to prevent these tragedies.”
By taking this action, the PHO is hoping it will increase the flow of data to help inform responses and prevent future overdoses. Currently information on overdoses is only reported if someone dies, and there is a delay in receiving the information.
“This is the first step in making that happen,” Kendall said.
“Over the next few weeks, I’ll work with medical health officers, health authorities, emergency room staff, paramedics and other first responders and the BC Coroners Service to determine how best to collect and share the data.”
Under the public health emergency, the circumstances of any overdose in B.C., where emergency personnel or health care workers are involved or provide care will be reported as quickly as possible to the regional health authorities’ medical health officers.
The information for both fatal overdoses and overdoses will include location, the drugs used and how they were taken.
The additional information, Kendall said, will help in their strategy to decrease overdoses by better targeting outreach, bad drug warnings, awareness campaigns and distribution of naloxone training and kits.
Fentanyl overdoses have been steadily increasing in B.C. over the past five years. According to the PHO, the increase in drug overdose deaths for which fentanyl was present went from five per cent in 2012 to approximately 31 per cent in 2015. In the first three months of 2016 there have been more than 200 fentanyl overdoses in the province. Fentanyl is an opiod-based pain killer that is about 100 times more potent than morphine.
FULL COVERAGE: Fentanyl in Canada
Kendall said the information will be collected by the PHO and analyzed at a provincial level by the BC Centre for Disease Control.