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Vancouver sees spike in overdose deaths amid COVID-19 crisis

A man walks past a COVID-19 alert sign in Vancouver's downtown eastside Thursday, March 26, 2020. The large amount of homeless living on the streets in the DTES and lack of social distancing may result in a easy spread of COVID-19.
A man walks past a COVID-19 alert sign in Vancouver's downtown eastside Thursday, March 26, 2020. The large amount of homeless living on the streets in the DTES and lack of social distancing may result in a easy spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

There has been a spike of overdose deaths in Vancouver amid the COVID-19 crisis, city officials say.

Vancouver police attended eight overdose-suspected deaths last week, the most since August 2019.

The numbers defy a recent trend that shows a decline in overdose deaths.

In February, the BC Coroners Service said there were 981 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths last year, a 36 per cent decrease from 2018.

Click to play video 'Health Matters: Nearly three people a day die from illicit drug overdoses in B.C.in 2019' Health Matters: Nearly three people a day die from illicit drug overdoses in B.C.in 2019
Health Matters: Nearly three people a day die from illicit drug overdoses in B.C.in 2019

Last week’s fatal overdose statistics, according to the city of Vancouver, serve as a stark reminder that the province is in the midst of two health crises: the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid overdose crisis, which was declared a public health emergency nearly four years ago.

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Since that time, the city says, there have been more than 4,700 fatal overdoses in B.C. with more than 1,200 of those deaths happening in Vancouver.

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The city warns the local drug supply remains laced with fentanyl and other contaminants.

The province recently introduced new clinical guidance that could make it easier for people struggling with addictions to get access to safe drugs in an effort to reduce the risk of overdose and promote physical distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“To properly battle the COVID-19 epidemic, we must tackle the poison drug epidemic,” Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said last week.

The city has opened two downtown community centres — Coal Harbour and Roundhouse (in Yaletown) — to house the homeless on a referral basis.

— With files from Simon Little