British Columbia

Surrey B.C. braces for a spike in drug overdoses

Frontline workers are expecting to see more drug overdoses in the hard-hit north end of Surrey B.C. as income assistance cheques arrive on Wednesday.

BCCDC research says more drug overdoses occur as income assistance cheques come in

Frontline workers are bracing for what could be a spike in drug overdoses in Surrey this week. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Frontline workers in Surrey B.C. are bracing for a potential spike in drug overdoses.

The city saw a rash of incidents over the past ten days, with 43 people overdosing on the July 15th weekend, and at least 15 more this week.

None of the incidents were fatal, but frontline workers like Shayne Williams, executive director of the Surrey Lookout Society, are on high alert.

"We're a little worried around the income assistance day — cheque day — which is this Wednesday, because the B.C. Centre for Disease Control has done studies which say 40 per cent more deaths happen on cheque day from overdoses," he said.

"Everybody's expecting that there's going to be a rash in overdoses, probably starting on Tuesday night, possibly going right into the weekend."

His organization will be bringing in extra staff, as well as relying on nurses from Fraser Health and the BCCDC.

Shayne Williams, executive director of the Surrey Lookout Emergency Aid Society, says his resources are stretched from dealing with the drug overdose crisis in Surrey. (CBC)

Williams said despite more staff his resources are stretched.

"It's a daunting task, especially for a community non-profit organization that doesn't have the health specialty," he said.

"We're a housing organization that's faced with this real health crisis among people who we can't get housed in Surrey."

Safe injection site a solution?

One of the proposals to fight the wave of overdoses in Surrey is to open the city's first safe injection site.

Yesterday, Fraser Health met with the Surrey City Council to discuss possible solutions including a safe injection site.

Council says they also want to hear from local businesses, fire, police, and outreach workers first.

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner has expressed doubt over creating a safe injection site.

"I have no data around how those injection sites have really moved people off narcotics and into a safer lifestyle," she said in an earlier interview with CBC.

Williams believes there's a lot of science to prove harm reduction can help.

"I think that there is plenty of research out there," he said.

"it's certainly a best case scenario if it would lead folks to an abstinence-based lifestyle, but that's definitely not the reality."

"It's very much about keeping people alive and giving them a spot to use outside of the community, or indoors so it's not in the community's purview."

In a study dubbed 'the check effect' the BCCDC looked at 1343 deaths due to illicit drug overdose from 2009‐2013 and found, on average, overdose deaths were 40% higher during weeks when income and disability cheques were issued.   (CBC)