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City calls for federal and provincial support of low-barrier opioid distribution pilot

May 31 2018 VFRS reports highest number of overdose calls since last year

“This project is urgently needed in Vancouver to provide a safer alternative to deadly street drugs,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Group of people being trained to give Naloxone

Mayor Gregor Robertson is calling for the federal and provincial government to fully support the implementation of an innovative low-barrier opioid distribution pilot, led by the BC Centre for Disease Control’s (BCCDC) Dr. Mark Tyndall, in Vancouver.

About the pilot

The pilot, which would provide a clean and safe alternative to tainted and illicit drugs through a dispensing machine, seems one of the only options available to address this deadly, toxic street drug market.

The pilot has received support from the Vancouver Police Department and Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services. 
 
“This project is urgently needed in Vancouver to provide a safer alternative to deadly street drugs,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson. “Vancouver lost 366 people to a preventable overdose last year - more than one death a day. Fentanyl was detected in over 80 per cent of those deaths. Poisonous, illicit drugs are killing our residents, friends, and loved ones and we need to continue taking bold new actions to halt the devastating death toll of the opioid overdose crisis.”

In April 2018, City Council directed staff to support the BCCDC’s pilot program and to help facilitate it as needed, including consideration of access to space or financial contributions.

New study results

New data released this month shows the majority of Vancouver’s street drugs don’t contain the substance people thought they’d purchased.

The study, conducted by the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use and based on results of a portable drug checking machine purchased by the City, showed that 88 percent tested positive for fentanyl.

577 overdose calls made to VFRS in April 2018 

This contaminated drug supply continues to drive the crisis and put pressure on first responders. A total of 577 overdose calls were made to Vancouver Fire and Rescue Service (VFRS) in April 2018, the highest number of calls made in one month since May 2017.

While calls have yet to reach the peak levels seen in November and December of 2016, calls last month were more than double those made when the opioid crisis was declared a public health emergency, signaling that the crisis is not slowing down.

“The number of overdoses shows no signs of slowing down, and the pre-crisis acute spikes have been replaced by endless days of high call volume,” said Jonathan Gormick, VFRS. “The women and men of VFRS work closely day and night with our community partners from the Vancouver Police Department, BC Emergency Health Services, Vancouver Coastal Health, and Overdose Prevention Society, among others, to provide the highest care possible to our most vulnerable community. While our newest response strategies have helped manage the impact of this drastic increase, we are planning for ways to keep the staff and community healthy as volume eventually challenges existing capacity.”  

 

The BC Coroners Service reported that 366 people died of an illicit drug overdose in Vancouver in 2017, more than one death a day for the entire year.

Read the BC Coroners Services’ report on Illicit Drug Overdose Deaths in BC, January 1, 2008 to March 31, 2018