7 overdose deaths in 1 week on Vancouver Island prompt urgent warning

Island Health has issued an urgent warning to individuals using illicit drugs after seven overdose deaths in the last week.

'The drugs on the street are more potent and dangerous than they have ever been before'

Island Health has issued an urgent warning to drug users after seven overdose deaths in one week. (Cliff Shim/CBC)

Island Health has issued an urgent warning to people using illicit drugs, especially in their own homes, after seven overdose deaths in the last week.

"The drugs on the street are more potent and dangerous than they have ever been before," Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health's chief medical health officer said.

"Do not use alone. Please, have someone around who is willing and able to seek help if an overdose happens." 

4 of 7 deaths within last 72 hours

Island Health's Chief Medical Health Officer, Dr. Richard Stanwick, said safe consumption services are ugently needed because of a rapid increase in overdose deaths. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Five of the deaths occurred in the Victoria area. Four were in the last 72 hours, Stanwick said.

At least two people died after using drugs in their homes. 

"People who are using in their private residences, that are concealing their drug use, they need to take even take greater precautions than perhaps some of our street-involved people." Stanwick said.

"The potency is so great; it happens so quickly that you really do need a plan that people can execute quickly," he said. "Call 911 immediately. Don't waste time and just see what's going to happen."

He said it is not yet known if a new or stronger drug, such as carfentanil, is responsible for the sudden increase in overdose deaths.

Carfentanil is coming

"It's such a concern. Is carfentanil making its way to the Island?" Stanwick said. "Certainly speaking with colleagues in Vancouver earlier today, the comment was well, if it isn't there now, it will be there shortly." 

This week, Vancouver Police said they detected carfentanil for the first time in a Vancouver drug seizure. Carfentanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl and is used to tranquillize elephants and other large animals.

Don McTavish, the director of residential services for the Cool Aid Society, said one of the overdose deaths occurred Thursday morning in a downtown residential building operated by the society.

McTavish said the overdose victim was a friend staying with a resident of the building.  

Found dead in friend's bathroom

"The person, sometime in the middle of the night, went into the bathroom, and I guess decided to use alone," McTavish said. The resident did not find their friend until morning, too late to be revived by paramedics.

Cool Aid employees have been performing "enormous amounts" of overdose responses at the society's housing and homeless shelter in the past year, McTavish said.  "It has really gone through the roof in the last year. And it's spiking again in the last couple of weeks."

Maurine Karagianis, the New Democrat MLA for Esquimalt-Royal Roads, questioned why Vancouver Island was not included in the B.C. government's announcement of $5 million to deploy paramedics and dispatchers closer to the centre of the fentanyl crisis on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and in Surrey.

"It's a mystery as to why the premier is leaving us out of the recent actions they are taking," Karagianis said.

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