Vancouver, BC: The Epicentre of the Opioid Crisis

Western Canada Bearing the Brunt of the Opioid Crisis

It’s no secret that Vancouver, BC is the epicentre of the opioid crisis in Canada. The city seems to be the canary in the coal mine. Deaths started to spike there at the tail end of 2016 and then the opioid crisis made news across the country in 2017. However, Western Canada is still hardest hit with British Columbia, Alberta, and the Yukon having the highest mortality rates per population.

Much larger provinces like Ontario and Quebec have had opioid-related deaths increase, but not nearly to the same degree. The rate of opioid-related deaths in BC was 20.5 per 100, 000 people in 2016, and 29.4 in 2017. Whereas Ontario’s rate was only 5.3 in 2016 and 7.9 in 2017. During the first quarter of this year, 390 British Columbians died from apparent opioid overdoses, compared with 320 deaths in Ontario.

Nationwide Opioid-Related Deaths Continue to Increase

2016 saw just over 3000 Canadians die from apparent opioid-related overdoses. 2017 was the deadliest year on record with almost 4000 Canadians dying from mostly accidental opioid-related overdoses. Federal and provincial governments have made plenty of press conferences about the opioid crisis, but have they actually done enough to curtail the harm occurring in our communities?

Early data suggests that is not the case. Between January and March 2018, there were 1036 opioid-related deaths, the vast majority of which were accidental. This is an increase of 5% compared to the same time period in 2017. This is not a large increase, however many had hoped the numbers would be decreasing due to all the changes in services provided. For example, the wide availability of the life-saving drug Naloxone.

The numbers for the first quarter of 2018 are strikingly similar to 2017. Most of the opioid deaths involved fentanyl or fentanyl analogues like carfentanyl (72% in 2017, 73% in 2018). Approximately three-quarters of the deaths occurred among males during both years. Just over a quarter of deaths occurred among people aged 30-39, which is the highest proportion among the age groups. With the numbers remaining steady and slightly elevated, 2018’s death toll could be even higher than in 2017. When the federal government releases the statistics for the next quarter we will report back.

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