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The Overdose Crisis | Part 1

Updated: May 4, 2022

When did the overdose crisis start?

In April 2016, the province of BC declared a public health emergency due to the increase of overdose deaths in the province. Before 2016, we experienced, on average, 215 overdose deaths per year. Then in 2016 the number of overdose deaths spiked dramatically to almost 1500 people dying of overdose. 2021 saw the highest amount of overdose deaths yet with 2,224 deaths. That means, on average in BC someone dies from a *preventable* overdose every FOUR hours. This graph below shows the steady rate of overdose death for many years and the dramatic increase in 2016.

So, what’s happening?

In 2015-2016 a synthetic opioid called fentanyl permeated the entirety of the illicit drug supply. What is fentanyl? Fentanyl is in the same class of drugs as heroin, morphine, codeine and more. Fentanyl is 50X stronger than morphine, 40X stronger than heroin. Due to its potency, you need much less to feel the effects and even a small amount of fentanyl can be lethal. Fentanyl has completely replaced heroin in the illicit market. Because such a small amount can make such a large impact, fentanyl is easier to smuggle and because the illicit drug market is not regulated, cross contamination is a huge driver as to why fentanyl has permeated the whole drug supply. A very small amount of fentanyl getting into the heroin, cocaine, and other drug supplies puts almost anyone who uses any substance at risk of a fatal overdose.

Who is at risk of overdose?

Simply, anyone who uses illicit substances is at risk of overdose. Statistically, 80% of the overdose deaths reported have been men. Around 70% of overdose deaths have been in private residences. These statistics shocks many people. It makes us question a very common and accepted narrative that this crisis is happening to people living on the street where the stereotypical “drug user” would be. But what this crisis has highlighted is that there is no one type of person that uses substances or is dying from this crisis. Most people nowadays know of someone who has died or someone who’s family has been affected by an overdose death in their circle. People who use substances more consistently have died, people who use substances recreationally have died because again, fentanyl has permeated almost all of the illicit supply.

What this crisis has highlighted is that there is no one type of person that uses substances or is dying from this crisis.

What can you do?

  1. Educate yourself to this crisis! Due to ongoing stigma and Covid-19 dominating the public health news, this crisis is not being talked about even though it is tragically killing so many.

  2. Learn how to use naloxone and carry a kit with you! Naloxone is a fast-acting drug used to temporarily reverse the effects for someone who is overdosing. Naloxone can restore breathing within 2 to 5 minutes. It is a life saving drug. You can pick up a free kit from most pharmacies in BC. To find out more information on naloxone, how to use a kit and where to pick one up, visit this website:

*Our counsellors at WCPS are trained in naloxone administration and can show you how*

Watch for Part Two of this post that will cover:

  • Why do people use substances?

  • How does stigma play a role in this crisis?

  • How can YOU be a safe person for people in your life who may be using substances?

Do you have any feedback/questions on this article? Feel free to leave a comment and let us know. We'd love to continue learning with you :)


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