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259 suspected overdose deaths in Vancouver this year

October 3 2017 City staff present update to Council on actions and impacts of the overdose crisis on Vancouver

"Huge thanks to all the City staff, first responders, community service workers, and people with lived experience who continue to work tirelessly on the front-lines to save lives."

Checking blood pressure

Today, City staff presented an update to council on the City's response to the overdose crisis. Also in attendance was Dr. Perry Kendall, Provincial Heath Officer, who presented a province-wide update on the crisis, along with Deputy Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Doug Hughes who also gave remarks on the provincial response and investment in addressing the overdose crisis.

Recent statistics

The most recent statistics shared in today's presentation show as of September 24, a staggering 259 suspected overdose deaths so far in 2017, as reported by the Vancouver Police Department (VPD). Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services (VFRS) has received 5,062 overdose calls for the same period, surpassing 2016's total, and putting the City on track for nearly 7,000 by year's end.

"Today's update on fentanyl overdose deaths in Vancouver was a grim reminder of a grueling crisis that has affected thousands of families across the City. I'm optimistic that the new BC government's attention to and investments in tackling the overdose epidemic will support the City's front-line efforts and in partnership we can save lives, end mental health and addictions stigma and get people the help they need, when they need it," says Mayor Gregor Robertson.

"Huge thanks to all the City staff, first responders, community service workers, and people with lived experience who continue to work tirelessly on the front-lines to save lives."

Province-wide crisis

While the majority of overdose support calls are coming from the Downtown East Side, the health and safety interventions in the neighbourhood are working. For every 27 calls, one death is reported, compared with a ratio of one death for every nine calls in Midtown and South Vancouver.

"We're seeing an unprecedented level of overdose response calls and related deaths all across the province, and Vancouver has been one of the hardest hit regions," says Dr. Perry Kendall, Provincial Health Officer.

"The province is making important investments in fighting this public health crisis and we need to put our focus on preventing people who overdose from dying, keeping people safe when using substances, creating a range of treatment options, and supporting people on their healing journey."

Funding to address the crisis

In 2017, the Council approved an investment of $3.5 million allocated to addressing the crisis. The investment resulted in the following actions:

  • 2.05 million was invested in Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services
  • $1.02 million was distributed to organizations working on the front line through community overdose grants
  • $430,000 went to community policing and safety programs

Community involvement

Through these important investments in community-led organizations, the City has seen positive impacts in both the Downtown East Side and communities across Vancouver. A few highlights of this investment include:

  • City funds have assisted in the creation of an Urban Indigenous Opioid Task Force, coordinated by the Metro Vancouver Aboriginal Executive Council. Indigenous people are three times more likely to die from an overdose than non-Indigenous people, and this task force brings together leaders from 23 member organizations to:
    • Identify emerging priorities
    • Disseminate information
    • Build capacity
    • Develop policy recommendations around the crisis
  • Spikes on Bikes, a cycle based needle recovery and overdose response team operated by the PHS Community Services Society, have collected over 100,000 needles and attended to 77 overdoses. From January to August 2017, needle reports were up nearly 70 per cent from the same time last year. The Spikes on Bikes team currently operates in the Downtown East Side (partially funded by Vancouver Coastal Health), Strathcona, Granville Corridor, and the West End. A pilot expansion to Olympic Village was recently instated.
  • City engineering has partnered with VPD, VFRS, and Emergency Health Services to install reference signs in the Downtown East Side laneways and alleys to help first responders locate people that are overdosing. First responders have had difficulty locating people overdosing in Downtown East Side lanes and the new signage helps them reach people more efficiently.

Provincial funding

The Provincial government recently announced a commitment of $31.14 million that will be allocated to addressing the overdose crisis including:

  • $15 million to support innovative community programs
  • $6 million to scale up naloxone distribution
  • $3.4 million for a mobile response team to provide overdose response training
  • $6.74 million to develop a public awareness campaign
  • Additional funds that will be allocated to scale up rapid access treatment and new addictions clinics.

The City is very encouraged to see such a strong investment from the provincial government to make this public health emergency a top priority. The City will continue to collaborate with senior levels of government on this crisis.

A full report back to council on the City's investment in fighting the overdose crisis will be presented in 2018. City staff will be presenting a report to council in November 2017 on the Healthy City Strategy, working to move the city from crisis to a healthy city for all.

Toxicology reports on the most recent deaths are not yet complete, and final overdose death numbers need to be confirmed by the BC Coroners Service.

Read the BC Coroners Services' report on Illicit Drug Overdose Deaths in BC, January 1, 2007 to July 2017 (490 KB).