‘Ghastly’ spike in overdoses sees Vancouver record deadliest month of 2018

A paramedic tends to an overdose patient in the St. Paul’s Hospital ambulance bay. Simon Little / Global News

The City of Vancouver says the last week of July was its deadliest of the year for overdoses.

According to numbers from the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), in the week of July 23-29, 11 people died of suspected illicit drug overdoses.

The reported surge in deaths comes just a day after the BC Coroners Service announced a downward trend in fatal overdoses since April of this year. The city’s numbers have yet to be confirmed by the Coroners Service.

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Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson described the numbers as “ghastly,” and renewed his call for decriminalized access to opioids.

“A poisoned supply of street drugs continues to kill our loved ones and devastate families across our city,” Robertson said.

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“Lives are on the line — people need access to safe prescription drugs rather than being forced to turn to the deadly drugs from organized crime on our streets.”

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Last year, a record 366 people died of overdoses in Vancouver, just over one per day.

In addition to the surge in deaths, the city said firefighters also saw a spike in the number of overdose calls they responded to last week.

The Vancouver Fire Rescue Service took 147 calls on the week of July 23 — 47 per cent higher than the week prior, and 24 per cent higher than 2017’s weekly average.

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In December 2016, the City of Vancouver approved a new 0.5 per cent property tax hike to fund a three-person fire medic team meant to help with the growing number of overdose calls, along with a variety of new anti-overdose initiatives.

According to the city, front-line workers are pinning the surge in overdoses on a high toxicity in street drugs.

It says the city’s position continues to be in support of providing a clean supply of drugs to people with overdoses, and increased access to drug checking.

Last year, the City of Vancouver helped fund a portable FTIR spectrometer for the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU), which has been used in the Downtown Eastside and at music festivals to test the contents of street drugs.

According to the BC Coroners Service, 105 people died of suspected illicit drug overdoses in B.C. in June. At least 742 people have lost their lives to drug overdoses in the province in 2018 so far.

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