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Sharp Increase in Overdose Deaths in March, April

The BC Coroners Service has released statistics showing a significant increase in fatal drug overdose deaths in March and April.

For the first time since late 2018, BC has recorded back-to-back months of more than 100 deaths; 112 in March, and 117 in April.

Medical Health Officer Dr. Shannon Waters said the reason for the increase in these types of deaths is due, at least in part, to physical distancing measures and vulnerable populations using alone.

“When you’re at an overdose prevention site or using with a friend, you have someone there who can respond if you get into a dangerous situation,” said Waters.

She added, “When you’re using alone, an overdose can come on very quickly and we can have quick and very unfortunate deaths.”

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Waters said healthcare professionals have been very concerned about mental health consequences, brought on by the COVID19 pandemic.

“Some things we were really concerned about with that was some of the mental health consequences of people needing to be more distant from each other and, specifically with the overdose crisis, where there has been a real concern, especially with deaths of those who are using along,” said Waters.

“When we’re needing to be apart and some people are far more isolated, we were worried about the impact that might have on overdose deaths,” said Waters.

The number of fatal overdoses in April is a 39-percent increase over the same month last year.

So far in 2020, there have been 382 fatal drug overdoses.

Seventy-one percent of those who died were between 19 and 49 years old and nearly 80-percent were men.

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Waters said the recently launched, ‘Lifeguard App,’ (which is free) provides help to those isolated populations.

“(It’s) something that an individual can have on their phone that they activate before they’re using and after a certain amount of time, it will sound an alarm, and if someone doesn’t respond to that alarm (in a certain time period), there is a call that is made to emergency services,” said Waters.

Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said illicit drug toxicity death rates in the province remain the highest in Canada.

Between March and April, the visits to the overdose prevention site in Duncan have ranged from 400 to 550 a week.

That’s a decrease of between 50 and 100 people a week who attend these facilities.

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