Minister’s statement on illicit drug toxicity death report
Feb. 24, 2020
VICTORIA – On Feb. 24, 2020, the BC Coroners Service announced its 2019 Data Release for Illicit Drug Toxicity Deaths in British Columbia, reporting that last year, 981 people died due to a poisoned, unregulated drug supply. The number of deaths is down 36% from the year before.
Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, has released the following statement:
“Today’s release by the BC Coroners Service of the 2019 drug toxicity deaths is a sharp reminder of lives cut too short, and of devastated families and communities left behind in the wake of this collective tragedy. We mourn each and every person lost, not as a number but as a person whose life matters. No one should have to experience the pain of losing a loved one to the ongoing fentanyl-poisoning crisis.
“While I am very encouraged to see the number of overdose deaths going down for the first time since this crisis began, and that fewer families will receive the terrible news of a loved one lost, our government is committed now more than ever to keep our foot firmly on the gas, to keep going and keep acting on what the evidence shows us is working.
“We have scaled up more life-saving supports like naloxone and overdose prevention services and created more pathways for medication-assisted treatment and for recovery. Thanks to our partners at the BC Centre for Disease Control, we know these strategies have prevented thousands of deaths and are helping people become healthy again.
“At the same time, we recognize that we still have an incredible amount of work to do. We know that more and more people are surviving overdose and living with long-term health impacts. We know that more people are seeking treatment and recovery and we are working tirelessly to meet those long-neglected needs.
“We have more treatment beds coming online this year and tough new regulations in place so that people in recovery homes get better care. We are also working with health authorities to further expand access to medication-assisted treatment for people living with opioid-use disorder. And we are working in partnership with the First Nations Health Authority to build two new urban Indigenous treatment centres and rebuilding six more in rural B.C.
“I want to extend my deepest gratitude to first responders, peers, families, health-care professionals and community workers who are dealing with the deeply emotional toll of doing everything they can to save lives and connect people to care time and time again. Our province owes you a debt we can never repay.
“The way we act and speak can make a life-changing difference for someone who is living with addiction, to find a pathway to hope and to healing. We cannot afford to stop caring. It really will take all hands on deck to stem this terrible tide and reduce the stigma that leads to so many people using and dying alone.
“As we look to the year ahead, we will continue to work closely with and listen to the valuable advice of our partners, including people with lived experience to save lives and build a better, more connected continuum of care options for people living with addiction.”
A backgrounder follows.
Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions
Key actions to combat the fentanyl poisoning crisis
Since April 2016, efforts to expand Naloxone, overdose prevention/ supervised consumption and connect people to treatment have averted over 5,000 deaths.
Additional actions include:
- expanding access to first-line medications for opioid use disorder including suboxone, methadone, Metadol-D, compounded methadone and other prescription alternatives;
- increasing the number of patients prescribed opioid agonist treatment (OAT) by 3,500 since July 2017 (from 19,371 in July 2017 to 22,872 in December 2019);
- distributing more Take Home Naloxone kits than ever before:
- In 2019, 232,312 were shipped throughout the province, compared to 195,696 kits in 2018;
- training more prescribers:
- As of Feb. 1, 2020, more than 490 practitioners have completed training to prescribe opioid agonist treatments including 106 nurse practitioners.
- In addition, 51 prescribers have completed training in injectable opioid agonist treatment;
- expanding flexible treatment options:
- Injectable opioid agonist treatment (iOAT) is an option for people with severe opioid use disorder who do not respond to other medication options.
- This year, iOAT will increase capacity up to 40% — from 304 clients across six sites (three in Vancouver, one in Surrey, one in Kelowna and one in Victoria) to more than 420 across eight sites (new sites planned in Vancouver and Fraser Health).
- Tablet or injectable OAT (TiOAT) is a low-barrier treatment option for people who have not been successful with OAT or iOAT. It gives patients the option to take the medication orally, or crush and then inject the medication under medical supervision. It offers some flexibility around when patients need to come in to take their medication.
- TiOAT capacity is expanding from 50 patients to 335 in Vancouver and the Interior;
- expanding access to addiction treatment through the implementation of Rapid Access to Addictions Care Clinics in all health regions;
- scaling up access to safer medication-assisted treatment options for people at high risk of overdose through a new partnership with the federal government;
- integrating mental-health and addictions services into primary care networks throughout the province;
- investing in First Nations-led land-based healing;
- building two new urban Indigenous Treatment Centres, and rebuilding or renovating six more in rural B.C.;
- funding 35 community action teams throughout the province to escalate evidence-based, local, integrated planning and strategies in response to the overdose crisis;
- strengthening the quality and consistency of care at supportive recovery homes by increasing provincial oversight and funding more training for operators
- providing almost $1 million in funding to municipalities for local projects through community wellness grants; and
- implementing provincial guidelines from the treatment of alcohol use disorder.
Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions