British Columbia

From rabid dog saliva to 'Dr. Lipjob,' these are the top B.C. health stories of 2018

The devastating overdose crisis remains the biggest and most important health story in B.C., but this has been a year that saw several major problems and controversies, as well as signs of progress, in the fields of health and medicine.

Devastating overdose crisis continues to be the biggest public health issue facing the province

Naturopath Anke Zimmermann gave up her licence this fall after she was the subject of multiple complaints. (CHEK News)

As 2018 winds down, B.C. is still in the grips of one of the most devastating public health crises in its history.

It's now been 31.5 months since a provincial state of emergency was declared in connection with an alarming rise in the number of overdose deaths, and the crisis shows no signs of slowing. More than 100 people continue to die in this province every month.

The ongoing catastrophe remains the biggest and most important health story in B.C., but this has been a year that saw numerous controversies, as well as signs of progress, in the fields of health and medicine.

Here are the top health stories of the year, as reported by CBC.

The opioid crisis

B.C. musician Sarah Valiunas died of an overdose this year. (Submitted by Snaige Sileika)

Overdose deaths have become a national tragedy, and no province has been hit harder than B.C. Between Jan.1 and Sept. 30, 1,143 people died in B.C. of illicit drug overdoses — far and away the most common cause of unnatural death.

As the crisis wears on, we're beginning to learn more about who the victims are, helping to wipe away stereotypes about drug users. We now know men are much more likely to overdose, and deaths usually happen when someone is using alone and at home.

Few families have been left untouched. In November, we learned that Agriculture Minister Lana Popham's 23-year-old stepson had died of an accidental overdose. Meanwhile, deadly fentanyl has been showing up in schools, and the children's advocate is calling for harm reduction efforts aimed specifically at youth.

Misleading claims in alternative health

Vancouver chiropractor Avtar Jassal found himself in hot water for creating a Facebook video in which he falsely claimed smoothies are more effective than vaccination at preventing the flu. (Facebook)

It all began with a blog post from a Victoria naturopath who claimed she'd treated a four-year-old's behavioural problems using a homeopathic remedy made from rabid dog saliva.

That single story, first reported in April, opened the gates to a flood of concerns about misleading claims in the alternative health professions, as well as breaches of provincial policy.

First, the vice-chair of the College of Chiropractors of B.C. was forced to resign from the board after posting an anti-vaccination video on Facebook. Next, the College of Naturopathic Physicians instituted a ban on a homeopathic therapy that falsely promised "complete elimination of autism."

In response to these incidents, both colleges announced crackdowns on false and misleading advertising by practitioners. Just last month, the interim registrar of the chiropractors' college announced that he had filed complaints against 50 chiropractors who had refused to remove false claims about treating everything from autism to cancer.

'A Good Goodbye'

Storm Miller received an assisted death in her home in August 2016. This photo was taken on the morning of her death. (Dave Miller)

A year-and-a-half into legalization, CBC's Jean Paetkau delivered an in-depth series on how medical assistance in dying (MAiD) is working out in B.C., the province with the highest rate of assisted death in the country.

The series included touching interviews with people opting to end their lives with the help of a doctor, as well as the families facing the imminent loss of their loved ones.

It also explored some of the challenges for those seeking MAiD, including the search for independent witnesses and the opposition of faith-based medical institutions. Some predict lawsuits in the future for facilities that don't permit assisted death on their premises.

The ongoing saga of 'Dr. Lipjob'

An Instagram post from Rajdeep Kaura Khakh, aka 'Dr. Lipjob.' (College of Physicians and Surgeons)

Rajdeep Kaur Khakh used the Instagram handle "DrLipjob" and injected botox into people's faces inside their cars and homes or at specially organized parties. She called herself Dr. Rajji, and used a forged medical licence to buy products.

As it turns out, she wasn't a doctor at all, and in the spring, the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons obtained a court order against her.

But the college alleges the order didn't work and that Khakh continued appearing at private botox parties in Vancouver. The college is now calling for her to be sent to jail.

Honourable mentions

Man's death in Tim Hortons puts spotlight on health care for the homeless.

Cystic fibrosis patients fight for access to drug that costs $250,000 a year.

Rodeo riders confront the reality of concussions.

EpiPen shortage hits B.C.

Doctors lose their licences, leaving Chilliwack patients scrambling.

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay has more than a decade of experience in B.C. journalism, with a focus on the courts, health and social justice issues. She has also reported on human rights and crimes against humanity in Cambodia. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

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