Drug-related deaths have been identified as a problem in British Columbia for years, but toxic drug poisoning continues to take its grim toll.
In March, 165 British Columbians died from drug-related deaths. In February, the number was 174 deaths and in January, it was 207. There are also some who have not died but have been permanently affected by the side-effects of drug use.
The disturbing number of deaths from illicit drug use has been identified as a public health emergency since 2016. This is not a problem confined to one part of the province or even to one specific demographic. The people who died in March, the last month for which statistics have been compiled, ranged in age from 19 to 69, with the majority between 30 and 49.
No community is immune to this crisis. Some of these deaths have occurred in large urban centres, but others have been in smaller rural areas.
For the past year and a half, the province has recorded more than 150 deaths a month as a result of toxic drug poisonings. This year, from January to March, 548 overdose-related deaths were recorded — more than in the first three months of any previous year.
In 2021 in small-town Williams Lake, there were nine overdose deaths, confirmed a drug crisis response team to city council. The team is trying to address the crisis through drug testing, offering more supports and trying to remove the stigma associated with substance use.
The numbers by themselves are shocking and disturbing, but those who have died during the ongoing overdose crisis are not simply statistics. Each was a person who was loved and cared for by family members and friends. Their deaths have affected those around them.
The provincial government has been adding mental health and substance use supports. Naxolone kits, used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, can be found at many public facilities. These and other efforts are important. Still, there are no simple solutions.
The ongoing overdose crisis is a societal problem. It affects people in all parts of the province and from many backgrounds. And these numbers are continuing to increase.
This is an ongoing problem and it is something none in this province can afford to ignore.
— Black Press