As the COVID-19 pandemic continues in BC and around the world, the City of Vancouver said it also experienced an increase in overdose deaths last week.
This increase is “a reminder that we now are experiencing two public health emergencies: COVID-19 and the overdose crisis,” the city said in a release.
From March 23 to 29, Vancouver Police reported eight overdose-suspected deaths, the most in a single week since August 2019, “and in contrast with the decline in number of overdose deaths in the city over the past year,” the city said. “The drug supply remains toxic with fentanyl and other contaminants present in many local illicit drugs.”
And while a number of businesses have temporarily shuttered their operations, Insite and Powell Street Getaway remain open and Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) is working with service providers to ensure overdose prevention sites are open for people to access.
VCH said it’s also asking people to continue using supervised consumption sites and overdose prevention sites and is recommending that housing providers continue allowing visitors and use other prevention strategies so people do not use alone in their rooms.
Additionally, the Downtown Eastside resident crisis response team distributed approximately 1,000 of the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors “How to access safer drugs now” brochures. The steps outlined were created from the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use guidelines with the goal of risk mitigation during the dual public health emergency.
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The city said that in partnership with VCH, it is creating a dashboard that monitors impacts of both the COVID-19 and overdose public health crises, and will continue to closely monitor overdose rates and clusters, working quickly with VCH, BC Housing, and community non-profits to respond.
These efforts come as a somber anniversary quickly approaches: April 14, 2020 will mark the four-year anniversary of the declaration of the overdose crisis as a public health emergency in BC. Since then, more than 4,700 people have lost their lives to overdose in BC, with more than 1,200 of those deaths happening in Vancouver.
Noting that it is working closely with VCH, the city said new guidelines were released last week to help prescribers offer safer alternatives to street drugs, and “it is hoped this step will reduce overdose risk and help drug users to safely physically distance to prevent COVID-19 transmission.”