Overdose Awareness Day puts spotlight on B.C. opioid crisis
An International Overdose Awareness Day flag is seen outside of Victoria city hall: Aug. 31, 2020 (CTV News)
VICTORIA -- With deaths from illicit drugs climbing to record levels in B.C. over the past three months, raising overdose awareness is more important now than ever before.
Since Jan. 1, more than 900 British Columbians have died from illicit drug overdoses.
Aug. 31 marks International Overdose Awareness day, with the goal of reducing the stigma of drug use and drug-related deaths, and highlight the grief felt by the families and friends of those who have lost their lives to the opioid crisis.
In a statement released Monday, B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy said, “Now more than ever we need to come together with compassion and commitment to prevent further deaths.”
The number of deaths reported by the BC Coroner Service on Aug. 25 show 140 people died from fentanyl-tainted drugs in July alone. The number of confirmed deaths from drug overdoses was 170 overall.
It was the third month in a row that saw more than 170 people die from an overdose of street drugs in B.C.
Organizations like Victoria’s SOLID Outreach Society say since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of illicit drugs behind closed doors has spiked, resulting in an increase in deaths.
“Having people move back into rooms where they are now using alone – and combine that with a stronger drug supply – its been disastrous,” said SOLID Outreach Society operations manager Fred Cameron.
“Prior to the COVID crisis it seemed like the numbers were on their way down, which means what we were doing was successful,” he said.
Cameron says the number of deaths from overdoses reported by authorities in the past three months is unprecedented.
He says prior to the pandemic, the people who were at the highest risk of an overdose were in their 30’s who were using drugs alone in their homes. With safe consumption sites operating at reduced capacity due to COVID-19 safety protocols, the risk is now even greater for people who use street drugs.
“Everyone knows somebody who is using drugs,” said Cameron. “I don’t think that anybody is safe from overdoses right now.”
Advocates for overdose awareness say that removing the stigma that faces illicit drug users will help prevent future deaths. They also call to all levels of government to provide a safe drug supply to minimize deaths from toxic street drugs.
On Monday night, in recognition of Overdose Awareness Day, the B.C. legislature building will be lit with purple lights. There will also be an online vigil to remember those who have lost their lives to the overdose crisis.