The following statement is from Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner with the Coroners Service of British Columbia, to mark International Overdose Awareness Day:
“Today we mark International Overdose Awareness Day, a global event held on Aug. 31 each year, aiming to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends, remembering those who have met with death or permanent injury as a result of drug overdose.
“Overdose Awareness Day spreads the message that the tragedy of overdose death is preventable. We are in the midst of a major illicit drug overdose crisis here in British Columbia. with hundreds of people dying. Information gathered as a result of our coroners’ investigations continues to signal a significant increase in illicit drug overdose deaths, with 780 lives lost already this year. That’s almost double the number of deaths for the same period in 2016, which recorded the highest number of illicit drug deaths ever.
“About 90% of the illicit drug overdose deaths that we investigate occur inside, with more than half of those deaths occurring in private residences. In many cases, those dying were alone in a bedroom or bathroom and, though others were in the home, they were unaware that their friend or loved one was experiencing overdose. In other cases, people misinterpreted overdose symptoms as a deep sleep and, as a result, did not summon emergency help.
“It is imperative that anyone using illicit drugs use them in the presence of someone who is aware of overdose symptoms and who is willing and able to provide immediate medical assistance and call for emergency help. New federal legislation provides immunity from simple possession charges for those who call 911. If you are the friend or family member of someone who uses illicit drugs, consider obtaining a naloxone kit and relevant training from a pharmacist. In addition, 20 overdose prevention sites are open in B.C., saving lives with medical assistance on-site for those using illicit drugs. If you know someone who uses illicit drugs, encourage them to reduce their risk by using at an overdose prevention site where available.
“Information is essential to formulating evidence-based solutions to the overdose crisis. The Drug-Death Investigation Team and research unit with the BC Coroners Service are working hard to identify patterns and trends to help determine who may be most at risk and where meaningful efforts and interventions can be made to prevent future deaths. The majority of the overdose deaths we investigate involve fentanyl, as well as other drugs. Cocaine is often present, as are heroin, methamphetamines, and MDMA (Ecstasy). Often, those using drugs are seeking fentanyl. In other situations, users had no idea that the drug they purchased from a supposed reliable source contained this unpredictable substance.
“The BC Coroners Service is also exploring whether those dying had experienced previous overdoses, had sought or participated in a drug treatment program, or had other physical or mental health concerns.
“We are losing too many loved and valued members of our communities at a tragic rate. Those who become drug-dependent arrive there for a multitude of reasons. Their dependency makes them vulnerable on numerous fronts. As coroners, our goal is to support efforts that save lives. We want to reduce the terrible loss of lives and the heartbreak being experienced on a daily basis by families around our province. Today, wear silver to show your support for those impacted by overdoses, not just in British Columbia, but around the world. Overdoses can affect anyone: it’s time to remember, time to act.”
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