A drop in the number of illicit drug overdose deaths in Coquitlam last year is good news but more work is needed to end the opioid health care crisis in B.C., says a Fraser Health medical health officer who is responsible for the Tri-Cities.
This year, a community action plan is being developed with a $75,000 provincial grant to try to further reduce the number of opioid deaths in the Tri-Cities.
Work is also ongoing to reduce the number of discarded needles found in public areas, according to Dr. Ingrid Tyler, and public information campaigns, free distribution of naloxone kits and a new opioid agonist therapy clinic in Port Moody are among the harm reduction strategies in place this year.
At the end of November, 2018, 20 people had died of an overdose in Coquitlam compared to 29 people in 2017 and fentanyl was detected in most of the illicit opioid overdose deaths, according to the BC Coroners Service, which published the information this week.
“We are very encouraged to see some reduction or at least no increase in 2018 compared to 2017 provincially. It is important for us to remember that the rates of deaths from illicit drugs or opioids in this case is much higher than three or four years ago. We are not out of the woods,” Tyler told the Tri-City News this week.
However, she pointed out that while each death is tragic, the Tri-Cities has a relatively low rate of overdose deaths compared to the rest of the province, or 16 per 100,000 people, while the provincial rate is about 30 per 100,000 people.
Still, the Tri-Cities needs a plan for an overdose crisis response and to that end Fraser Health is working with Share Family and Community Services and the Division of Family Practice on strategies.
However, Tyler was cautious in suggesting reasons for the slightly lower overdose death numbers or what strategy would be best to tackle the problem further.
“The issue is so complex and affects such a wide variety of society and individuals that it’s really important that we have multiple strategies out there so that regardless of where your at in your use and what ever kind of risk profile you may have that you will find the information and help that you need.”
She hopes more people will heed the message that Fraser Health is trying to promote about ways to use drugs safely.
“It may be helpful to use the opportunity to repeat those messages, to remind people to have a naloxone kit, reminding people to use with someone or have someone check on you if you’re using, reminding people not to use alcohol with drugs or use multiple drugs, and to know signs of overdose, and call 911 immediately and give breaths every five seconds until help arrives.”
Tyler also pointed out that it is not a crime to help someone and stay at the scene of an overdose because the Good Samaritan Overdose Act provides legal protection for those who seek emergency help.