British Columbia

Overdose crisis is 'our Ebola', says Dr. Mark Tyndall

A top B.C. addiction doctor is calling for longer hours at the safe injection sites and a better ear when listening to people struggling with addiction.

308 illicit drug deaths mark 75 per cent increase over 2015, says B.C. Coroner

At the current rate more than 800 drug-related deaths are expected by year-end in B.C. (Dimitris Kalogeropoylos/Flickr)

The executive medical director for B.C.'s Centre for Disease Control says with B.C. facing the potential of 800 addiction deaths in 2016 — if the current rate continues — it is time to start treating the overdose crisis like Ebola.

"This is really our Ebola I think," Dr. Mark Tyndall told the CBC Thursday. "We spent last year worrying about an Ebola outbreak in B.C. and spent millions of dollars and a lot of resources on that and I think we need to put the same kind of focus on this catastrophe."

There have been 308 illicit drug overdose deaths so far in 2016, a 75 per cent increase over the same period in 2015, according to the B.C. Coroner's office.

In January 77 people died — the largest number of deaths in a single month since 2007.

More than 80 addictions experts and health officials are meeting in Vancouver to find solutions in the wake of the public health emergency that was officially announced on April 8 after a staggering number of opioid overdose deaths across B.C.

Fentanyl and other opioids have taken 250 lives so far in 2016. Provincial projections suggest up to 800 people may die from overdoses or other complications of drug use by year end.

While Naloxone is more readily available in Saskatchewan than it was a year ago, but First Nations chiefs want the province and federal government to fund treatment centres, and do more to fight the opioid crisis. (PunchingJudy/Flickr)

"Fentanyl has had a huge impact" said Tyndall, but there are other problems.

He called for more harm reduction measures, antidote availability and longer hours at the existing supervised injection site called Insite.

"Insite has had NO overdose deaths — ever," said Tyndall, noting that the site was at full capacity within six months of opening in 2003 and needs an extended 24-hour opening.

"We really need to listen to what people are saying," he said, referring to drug users who have long called for more evidence-based help and less stigma.

Tyndall said the move by B.C.'s provincial health officer Perry Kendall to call the drug-related overdoses "a crisis" helped drive experts and officials to come together.

It has also improved communication between health authorities, the coroner's office and medical staff, he said.

But it's not enough, according to Tyndall, when it comes to putting proven treatments in place. He is calling for:

  • More access to Naloxone kits, to prevent overdoses
  • Increased safe injection site capacity
  • Better substitution therapies, such as using injections of morphine under supervision

"We have kind of taken our foot off the gas" on some proven and successful interventions, said Tyndall, urging those in charge of healthcare that it's time to start pushing again.

BC Coroner's summary 2007-2016

  • There were 308 apparent illicit drug overdose deaths from January to May 2016.
  • So far up until the end of May an average of 61 people have died because of illicit drug overdoses each month, compared to 40 each month in 2015.
  • 77 apparent illicit drug overdose deaths in January 2016 made this the deadliest month in years.
  • Preliminary data suggests that individuals aged 20-29 and 30-39 account for most of the deaths.
Opioid-related deaths are really 'our Ebola' says Dr. Mark Tyndall. (UBC Faculty of Medicine)