The Canadian province where overdoses kill more than covid-19 | Society


A man injects himself on the streets of Vancouver, Canada, in April 2020.
A man injects himself on the streets of Vancouver, Canada, in April 2020.JESSE WINTER (Reuters)

British Columbia is the epicenter of the overdose wave that has hit Canada since 2016, mainly from opiates. If the country presented in the first months of 2021 a rate of 19.4 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants for this cause, the province located on the Pacific coast registered 40.4. And the picture keeps getting worse. The Office of the Forensic Service released figures that confirm this on Thursday. Last October was the deadliest month for which data is available: 201 people lost their lives. For its part, between January and October 2021, 1,782 deaths were recorded; a new annual mark even though it only includes 10 months.

“This crisis is getting worse. The supply of drugs has become more toxic, “said Lisa Lapointe, provincial chief coroner, at a press conference. “People are dying at an unprecedented rate every day in all communities. So I think it is a collective failure ”, he added regarding this problem that takes the lives of six people on average daily; the leading cause of unnatural deaths in this Canadian province. According to this institution, about 80% of the deceased were men and 71% of the victims were between 30 and 59 years old.

British Columbia has been under emergency health due to this calamity since April 2016. More than 8,500 people have died of overdoses. In comparison, today there are 2,370 deaths from covid-19 in the province. “It is difficult to understand why this crisis is not treated with all the mobilization that we have seen in other health emergencies,” Lapointe stressed. Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, said: “Almost everyone in this province knows someone whose life was cut short by the toxicity of illicit drugs. I’m very sorry for every loss. “

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As in the United States, fentanyl is the biggest culprit in deaths: it is linked to 84% of overdose deaths this year. Malcolmson recalled that the province is fighting on several fronts, but that it is necessary to redouble efforts. British Columbia has licensed injection sites (the first of its kind in North America was opened in 2003 in Vancouver). Social workers also distribute naloxone – a drug that reverses opioid overdoses – and some doctors prescribe heroin to drug addicts who do not respond to conventional treatments. The province announced in April an investment of 330 million Canadian dollars (260 million US dollars) to increase addiction services; 152 million are specifically earmarked for opiates.

Lisa Lapointe said there is a need to increase these supports, but that additional steps are required. “As long as people continue to depend on an unregulated, illicit and for-profit market, their lives will be in danger. The only solution is to provide a safe supply to addicts, ”he noted. “The status quo is no longer acceptable,” he added. On November 1, British Columbia became the first province to ask the federal government to decriminalize simple drug possession.

The provincial authorities submitted this request to the Canadian Ministry of Health, under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. In the document, they asked that the possession for personal use of a maximum of 4.5 grams (heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine, crack, cocaine) not be penalized. Instead of being arrested or paying a fine, individuals would receive information about access to support services. The Toronto and Montreal Public Health offices have suggested similar measures for more than a year. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has also pointed in the same direction. The Canadian Ministry of Health has not yet ruled on the British Columbia Government’s request.

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In October 2018, Canada became the second in the world (after Uruguay) to legalize cannabis for recreational use. It has been one of the most important initiatives of the Justin Trudeau government. In September 2020, the prime minister said that decriminalization did not seem like the appropriate response to the opioid crisis. “In a crisis like this, there is no silver bullet,” he said. However, Trudeau left the door open in the last electoral campaign to work with the provinces that request partial decriminalization, although insisting that it would not be a measure for the entire country.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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