British Columbia

Vancouver overdose deaths spike amid COVID-19 crisis

Vancouver recorded eight suspected overdose deaths in one week in March, the highest weekly toll since August 2019, according to the City of Vancouver.

Jump in deaths in contrast to decline in the last year

The City of Vancouver is warning drug users that fentanyl and other contaminants are still present in illicit street drugs. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Vancouver recorded eight suspected overdose deaths in one week in March, the highest weekly toll since August 2019, according to the City of Vancouver.

"The increase in overdose deaths last week is a reminder that we now are experiencing two public health emergencies: COVID-19 and the overdose crisis," said a statement from the city.

The spike happened between March 23 and 29 and is in contrast to a decline in overdose deaths in Vancouver over the past year.

The city says the drug supply remains toxic, with fentanyl and other contaminants still present in many illicit drugs. It is urging people to use supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites to reduce overdose risk, and to help drug users keep a safe distance in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Last Thursday, the federal government gave the green light for a safe supply of drugs and announced other measures to help residents of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside residents from contracting or spreading the illness linked to the novel coronavirus.

On April 14, 2020, B.C. will mark the four-year anniversary of the declaration of the overdose crisis as a public health emergency. 

More than 5,000 people have lost their lives to overdoses in B.C. since 2016 when the health emergency was declared as fentanyl was increasingly detected in street drugs.

More than 1,200 of those deaths happened in Vancouver.

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