Last night (December 15) there were nine overdose deaths in Vancouver, eight of which occurred in the Downtown Eastside.
VPD chief Adam Palmer revealed that grim fact at a news conference today where he stood alongside Mayor Gregor Robertson to make an impassioned plea for the province to spend more on addiction treatment.
“B.C. is in the midst of a serious health crisis,” Palmer said. “Fentanyl is killing people every day in our city and in this province.”
Just as that news conference ended, the B.C. Coroners Service issued a media release stating that those nine deaths were part of 13 that occurred across the province last night.
“We’re seeing a record number of overdose deaths in neighbourhoods all over Vancouver, and it’s getting worse,” Palmer said.
He noted that during the first 11 months of this year, the VPD investigated 160 overdose deaths. That compares to 11 homicides and 16 motor-vehicle fatalities investigated during the same time period.
“Other than natural causes, can you imagine nine people dying from any other cause in one day in our city?” Palmer asked.
“Where we’re failing is treatment,” he continued. “There is a lot of focus right now placed on harm reduction because people’s lives are in immediate risk. This is a tactic that we understand and support. The fentanyl crisis, however, is bringing a new level of urgency to address the lack of detox and treatment options available to people.
“Right now, there is a huge gap in the system, and it is failing those people who put up their hand and ask for help to get clean.”
Robertson spoke next and praised recent measures taken by the province, which include the establishment of a mobile emergency unit in the Downtown Eastside and three new supervised-injection sites that opened there last week.
But he emphasized that provincial measures have largely remained limited to harm reduction. Roberstson said that although those programs are important and must continue, they must not comprise the government’s entire response to the fentanyl crisis.
“Treatment is the missing link that has been woefully inadequate for many years now,” he said. “We are seeing the impacts of that now on our streets. We cannot continue to indefinitely react to this crisis and purely deal with the harm-reduction piece.
“We need from the B.C. government significant upstream investments and treatment and detox to help people break that cycle of addiction and get people into treatment,” Robertson continued. “That means we could see a turning-the-corner here.”
He warned that the number of overdose deaths occurring in Vancouver is almost certain to continue to rise.
“It’s desperate times in Vancouver and it’s hard to see any silver lining right now when we don’t seem to have hit rock bottom with the number of people dying on any given day from an overdose,” Robertson said.
“We’re not able to tread water anymore. We’re losing way too many people. Harm reduction alone can’t solve this.”
During the first 10 months of this year, 622 people in B.C. died of an illicit-drug overdose. That puts the province on track for more than 740 for the year, compared to 510 in 2015 and 370 the year before.
The B.C. Coroners Service is expected to release numbers for November on Monday (December 19). At the news conference, officials warned that they will show an increase in monthly deaths that began several months ago is continuing.
Palmer insisted that the B.C. Liberal government must invest more money in treatment.
“We’re not asking for anything unreasonable in this province,” he said. “We simply want a place that we can take people when they are ready, when they self-identify, and they come forward looking for help. When they are ready to turn their lives around and get off drugs. We want better coordination and proper resourcing to ensure that detox and treatment help is available right away. We want a long-term health plan that does more than just revive people temporarily and sends them back into the streets to continue with their addiction. We want treatment on demand.”