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Metro Vancouver’s top doctor calls for safe drug supply as fentanyl overdoses rise

WATCH: Vancouver Coastal Health's chief medical officer says the illegal drug trade is reducing life spans of people in the Downtown Eastside - and it's time to regulate the supply of illicit drugs. Aaron McArthur reports.

Vancouver Coastal Health’s top doctor is joining the calls for a safe and regulated drug supply in the region to help combat the overdose crisis.

In a report released Friday, chief medical health officer Dr. Patricia Daly says the safe supply would help fill the gap left by people who haven’t connected with the health care system, arguing expanding treatment for people battling addiction isn’t enough to eliminate further deaths.

“Replacing the unregulated, illegal supply of opioids with legal alternatives must rise to the top of our priority list, and requires our urgent attention,” Daly writes at the top of the report.

WATCH: (Aired April 24) B.C.’s top doctor calls for decriminalization of possession of street drugs

B.C.’s top doctor calls for decriminalization of possession of street drugs
B.C.’s top doctor calls for decriminalization of possession of street drugs

The report found fentanyl was detected in 87 per cent of overdose deaths across the Vancouver Coastal Health area in 2018 — a six per cent rise from the previous year.

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In 2015, only 25 per cent of fatal overdoses involved fentanyl, an opioid 50 times stronger than heroin.

READ MORE: Vancouver seeks safe drug supply, more federal funding to combat overdose crisis

Daly makes 21 recommendations to improve services throughout the Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) region, which covers more than a million people on the South Coast.

Chief among those recommendations is to integrate the various services provided to care for people with substance abuse disorders.

Daly also argues for opioid agonist treatment, which involved taking regulated medications that help to prevent withdrawal and reduce opioid cravings.

READ MORE: Drug deaths in B.C. continue to fall, but 3 people are still dying every day: coroner report

“We must continue to build a robust system to care for those with substance use disorders, and to address the needs of those living with emotional and physical pain and the intergenerational trauma of colonialism,” Daly writes.

The report also breaks down the impacts of the overdose crisis on communities throughout the VCH region.

The highest figures of fatal overdoses were found in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, which saw more than 100 deaths by residence per 100,000 population between 2017 and 2018.

WATCH: (Aired May 15) Illicit drug deaths down, but totals still staggering

Illicit drug deaths down, but totals still staggering
Illicit drug deaths down, but totals still staggering

Those premature deaths have created a nearly 15-year discrepancy between the average life expectancy for men in the DTES and men living in Vancouver’s West Side, the report states.

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Smaller communities like Powell River and the Sunshine Coast are also disproportionately affected by the epidemic, the report found.

READ MORE: B.C.’s top doctor urges province to decriminalize possession of hard drugs to address overdose crisis

Daly also argues for decriminalizing possession of illicit drugs for personal use, an argument also made by B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry earlier this year.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said his government will not take that step.

The City of Vancouver’s task force focused on the overdose crisis also recently recommended creating a safe drug supply, which council unanimously approved along with other recommendations.