Regulate drugs to save lives, B.C. doctor says, as fentanyl detected in 87% of ODs

VANCOUVER – The chief medical health officer of Vancouver Coastal Health is calling for a regulated drug supply as an alternative to illegal and deadly substances in response to the overdose crisis.

Dr. Patricia Daly says expanding treatment for people battling addiction to opioids isn’t enough to eliminate the risk of death, especially for drug users who have not connected with the health-care system.

“We know that what drives deaths most is the toxicity of the illegal drug supply, and unless we can replace that with a regulated alternative, we’re going to continue to see deaths,” she says.

Daly has made 21 recommendations in a report that focuses on services provided by the health authority that covers a region of over a million people on B.C.’s urban and rural coast.

The report says a toxic supply of illicit drugs has meant fentanyl, an opioid 50 times stronger than heroin, was detected in 87 per cent of overdose deaths in the Vancouver Coastal Health area in 2018, up from 25 per cent in 2015.

In an effort to help curb the number of overdoses and help those struggling with addiction, Daly adds hospitals are now operating a little differently.

“We require now our emergency departments to report people who come in with an overdose to our overdose outreach team that will connect with people after they’re discharged from the emergency department,” she explains.

Daly says while residents of the Downtown Eastside have experienced the highest rate of fatal overdoses in Vancouver, smaller rural communities such as Powell River and the Sunshine Coast are also disproportionately affected by the epidemic.

Her report says decriminalizing possession of illicit drugs for personal use would help reduce social isolation for people who could get better access to health care but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said his government will not take that step.

While a solution may fee far away, Daly says we are moving forward.

“Just this past week, the City of Vancouver endorsed a safer supply statement, and within the last month Health Canada has put out a call for proposals for pilot projects,” Daly notes.

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