There has been a spike in the number of illicit drug deaths in Northern Health.
Doctor Andrew Gray, the Medical Health Officer for Northern Health, goes over some of the numbers…
“In March we had 13 overdose deaths which is actually quite a bit more than we normally have. A typical month, at least during the overdose emergency, we would be seeing 4 to 5 deaths per month, so 13 is actually quite a significant increase for us unfortunately.”
As for why there was a jump, Gray says typically the biggest driver of why overdoses change month to month or even year to year is the state of the drug supply…
“In terms of both how toxic and how unpredictable illicit drugs can be nowadays with fentanyl. And i have been hearing from provincial colleagues that they’re seeing higher concentrations of fentanyl than were previously being seen in street drugs, so that’s i think probably the main reason.”
The number of deaths from illicit drugs in Northern Health in 2018 is now 22.
There were 58 in all of 2017.
So how do we prevent these numbers from going up ?
Doctor Gray says there are a lot of components to the answer to that question…
“We certainly need to expand access to various kinds of health services including harm reduction like naloxone and training people to respond to overdoses and recognize them when they’re happening and intervene appropriately. We need to expand access to addiction treatment that will help keep people safe from overdose and then in the bigger picture, the unsafe illicit drug supply is something that if we were able to increase access to safer alternatives for people that are dependent, that have opioid addiction, if we can give them that alternative that would help a lot.”
Doctor Gray says another thing that would help socially is if we can decrease the stigma that is currently experienced by people with addictions.
He says if people can be seen with greater compassion to understand that drug use is so often the consequence of people trying to self medicate for their pain, often related to trauma that they’ve experienced in their lives, then we may understand where they’re coming from and implement the best evidence based solutions.
Doctor Gray says something that is increasingly being discussed is the decriminalization of drugs and how that would help a lot for both implementing those solutions and decreasing the stigma.