British Columbia

Vancouver data scientists crunch numbers behind overdose crisis to help with answers

Dozens of scientists with the data science and social justice organization dataforgood, poured over statistics from B.C.'s overdose crisis to look for underlying reasons for drug use.

Dozens of scientists with dataforgood poured over stats looking for underlying reasons for drug use

Dozens of data scientists with the organization dataforgood analyzed statistics from B.C.'s opioid crisis on Saturday Jan. 13, 2018 to try and determine the underlying issues around drug use. (dataforgood/Twitter)

Dozens of Vancouver data scientists with the social justice organization dataforgood gathered in Vancouver to try and provide more insight into the province's opioid overdose crisis.

From January to October of 2017 there were 1,208 deaths from illicit drug overdoses.

In comparison, 1991 saw only 117. 

The total number of deaths from illicit drug overdoses in 2017 eclipsed any other unnatural cause of death in B.C., including suicide and motor vehicle incidents.

"So many people out there think that drug users are somehow inherently weak or flawed and they are here by virtue of this weakness and that is simply not true and we are hoping that this is what that data will show," said organizer Peter Kim, a co-founder of the Vancouver chapter of dataforgood.

The organization partnered with the Overdose Prevention Society to pore over provincial records to see what drugs people are using and for what reasons.

"Some of them just want to relax or they have some pain, they're going through stress and we want to see what kind of substances they're using ... and then we're trying to see if they're trying to stop using," said Noah Amar, who has a PhD in statistics.

Sarah Blyth from the Overdose Prevention Society hopes the data will show that trauma and pain can lead to addictions. Blyth hopes that, in turn, the findings will help in the development of more overdose prevention tools.

The society helps around 500 people a day safely inject drugs from locations on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. They are not a legally sanctioned safe injection site like InSite,

"Data really helps prove things for a fact, you know that we've saved hundreds of lives in one year...and there's been a bunch of overdose prevention sites open so we're saving lives," she said. "The death toll could be a lot higher than it is."