According to the BC Coroners Service, in 2016 there were 914 overdose (OD) deaths due to illicit drug use across BC. Fentanyl was detected in 60% of them. 253 of the deaths occurred in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, including 215 in Vancouver, 11 in Richmond, and 27 in the North Shore Coast Garibaldi region. Males comprise 80% of the deaths.
Overdoses in VCH urban areas
In 2016 there were 7,009 illicit or unknown drug overdoses at VCH emergency departments (ED). The previous 5-year average was 4,085 visits/year. Opioids accounted for 29% of the visits in 2016 with heroin being the most commonly reported substance. 41% of the overdose visits were due to an unknown substance.
86% of the overdoses were seen at Vancouver EDs. The majority (71%) of them at St. Paul’s Hospital.
The majority of overdoses occurred in males (71%) and those aged 19 to 39 years (59%).
Of overdose patients to VCH urban EDs 48% live in Vancouver, 5% were from Richmond, 4% were from Coastal Urban, and 2% were from Coastal Rural. The majority of Vancouver residents were from City Centre and the Downtown Eastside. The remaining patients live in other health authority regions or didn’t state where they are from.
Mobile Medical Unit
Between December 13, 2016 and January 22, 2017, 829 patients visited the Medical Mobile Unit in Vancouver. Among those, 38% visited as a result of an illicit drug overdose. The majority of patients were male (71%) and the median patient age was 38 years (range: 18-84 years).
Overdose Prevention Sites
In December, five Overdose Prevention Sites opened in Vancouver. Between December 8, 2016 and January 22, 2017, there were over 10,000 visits to the five sites. In that same time period there were 115 overdose reversals reported.
Overdoses in VCH rural areas
In VCH rural hospitals (Bella Coola General Hospital, RW Large Memorial Hospital, Sechelt Hospital, and Powell River General Hospital) OD reporting began in June 2016. Since then there have been 36 ODs reported, of which 39% were opioid related. The majority of ODs (61%) were at Sechelt Hospital.
Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care are extremely concerned about the high number of overdoses and overdose deaths in our region and throughout the province and continue to take steps to respond.
VCH & PHC and its partners are taking a number of steps to reduce opioid/fentanyl-related overdoses, including new actions this month:
- Held a community open house in Strathcona to discuss community health and safety concerns such as supervised injection services.
- VCH, Atira Women’s Resources Society & BC Housing opened 38 new substance use treatment beds for women. The supportive treatment units are located in Atira’s Rice Block building at 404 Hawks Avenue.
- Added take-home naloxone kits at several VCH units including acute psychiatry, community mental health, Detox and Daytox, and UBC Hospital Psychiatry.
- Held education on overdose prevention and naloxone training for Ministry of Family Development social workers, foster parents and allied staff, in addition to regular monthly training for VCH staff.
- Started developing an Intranet site for staff
- Facility overdose response boxes, provided by the BC Centre for Disease Control, to 20 sites in the VCH region.
- Developed a manual for people working at overdose prevention sites.
- The emergency physician position at the Mobile Medical Unit has been removed, due to patient needs. The addictions physician and nurses remain, from 9 am to 9 pm daily.
- BC Government makes suboxone (addiction treatment) free for people with PharmaCare,
We are also finalizing several other strategies; details will be released in the coming weeks and months.
For a complete list of actions to date and info about overdose prevention such as how to use naloxone and where free take-home kits are available visit www.vch.ca/overdose.
Photo: Atira Women’s Resources Society’s Rice Block building where 38 new beds opened for women with substance use issues