36 people overdose in 48 hours in Surrey; PHO calls for multifaceted solution

Click to play video: 'Huge spike in overdoses in Surrey'
Huge spike in overdoses in Surrey
ABOVE: A shocking number of overdoses in Surrey this weekend. 36 in just 48 hours. As John Hua reports -- there are fears that number could go even higher – Jul 17, 2016

Concern is growing in Surrey after first responders were called to 36 overdoses within a 48 hour period this weekend.

Most of the overdoses were tied to the drug fentanyl and it appears the drug is becoming more potent.

Provincial Health Officer Perry Kendall said out of the 36 overdoses there was one fatality.

“It does seem anecdotally that a lot of the people who are buying the drug thought they were getting cocaine,” Kendall said in a press conference on Monday. “[It’s] either a deliberate contamination of cocaine with fentanyl or a mistake by whoever produced the powder.”
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This, Kendall says, echoes what the message has been all along; which is when anyone buys illicit drugs on the street, there’s no guarantee that what you’re getting is what is being proposed as a drug. Everyone needs to be cautious about the drugs that are bought on the street, how they are used and the amounts they start with.

Residents in Surrey say now is the time for all levels of government to intervene in the crisis.

“Just a little while ago my sister overdosed,” said one resident. “Every time you stick a needle in your arm, fear for your life, because you don’t know if you’re going to wake up or not.”

READ MORE: Number of B.C. fentanyl-related deaths spikes in first half of 2016

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Fentanyl has been linked to 60 per cent of drug-related deaths during the first five months of 2016, according to new statistics from the B.C. Coroners Service.

Illicit drug overdoses have killed a total of 371 people in the first half of 2016, with 60 per cent of those showing fentanyl or a combination of fentanyl and other illicit drugs in toxicology reports.

The number of deaths is a 74.2 per cent increase from the same period in 2015, while the proportion of fentanyl-linked deaths have doubled.

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It’s the biggest jump in fentanyl deaths since the drug started growing in popularity in 2012.

Kendall said people on the street have said their addiction is so far gone that they don’t care where their narcotics are coming from; which means the health officer’s messages are falling on deaf ears.

“This compounds the problem a lot,” Kendall said. “The answer to that if we had the resources to do it, would be to open up clinics where people could receive alternative pharmaceuticals like methodone, suboxone or hydromorophone.”

Fraser Health says it has rapidly been implementing an aggressive strategy to combat drug overdoses, including:

  • Identifying priority sites for safe consumption services
  • Increasing administration of naloxone and accessibility to take-home naloxone
  • Launching public awareness campaigns targeting different types of people who use drugs
  • Engaging municipal and community partners on overdose response and prevention
  • Providing better supports to improve access to opioid substitution therapy such as suboxone

Kendall fears with the status quo, the number of overdoses is unlikely to drop.

What needs to happen? Kendall said, a number of things.

“We need to have less toxic drugs on the street. But if people cannot stop taking these drugs it would be good to have them available to people in smaller amounts; have drug testing on the street so people can stay away from toxic drugs; have more oversight and consumption sites; always have someone by them with a kit to reverse an overdose and have people come into treatment rather than relying on illicit drugs.”

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Currently B.C. is the only province that has declared this to be a public health emergency.

“There is no single solution to the public health emergency we are facing. It is a complex concern that requires a multi-faceted approach to prevent overdoses, encourage safe consumption, and provide treatment options,” said Dr. Victoria Lee, chief medical health officer, in a release.

“We started taking action last fall when our data showed an increase in overdoses, and this strategy is a continuation of that work through additional targeted education, focused engagement with our communities and enhanced access to naloxone.”

From January to May, 2016, Fraser Health dispensed 857 take-home naloxone kits in emergency departments, public health units and via their community partners, which is a 10-fold increase from the same period in 2015.

-With files from Jill Slattery

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