CANADA: In a shocking scenario, British Columbia (Canadian Province) has witnessed more than 1,700 deaths last year from illicit drug toxicity. The death record has seen a 74 percent hike from 2019, making it the worst record for the province. British Columbia is considered the ‘epicenter’ of the overdose crisis in Canada. Now, the drug overdose deaths have surpassed the total 901 deaths caused by COVID-19 in 2020.
Last week, Health Canada announced more than $15 million for four safer supply programs in Vancouver and Victoria, including providing pharmaceutical-grade heroin for those with chronic opioid addiction. In September, more than $9 million for four other safer supply projects in Ontario was announced by the ministry.
Drug overdose deaths in British Columbia
Nearly 70 percent of the drug overdose deaths in 2020 were among people aged between 30 and 59, of which men accounted for 81 percent of the deaths. Fentanyl was detected as the most used drug in the overdose deaths, followed by meth and cocaine. In 2016, British Columbia declared a public health emergency over opioids.
An increasingly toxic drug market, lack of timely access to treatment, recovery services, and decades of criminalization has led to immense loss of lives in the province.
Drug overdose death rates also saw a spike in North America during the pandemic as a result of the mental trauma due to the pandemic and reduced access to community networks.
Meanwhile, talks of drug decriminalization are gaining momentum across both countries to help save lives and reframe the use of drugs and addiction as a health matter and not a crime.
As of last week, British Columbia became the first Canadian province to seek its own federal decriminalization exemption. Drug policy advocates across Canada have also been calling for safer supply programs, in which health officials prescribe pharmaceutical alternatives to the increasingly toxic street supply, as a crucial measure to curb overdose deaths and help connect people with healthcare and services.