The Current

Addiction experts discuss solutions to opioid overdose crisis

B.C's opioid overdose epidemic is in desperate need of a solution. But it is complicated to tackle a seemingly intractable problem. The Current looks at a proposal to end the prohibition of heroin and the call for more government money to treat addiction.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic drug that is often cut with other substances. (CBC)

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According to new numbers released by the B.C. Coroners Service, November was the deadliest month on record for the province with 128 fatal overdoses — bringing the year's total to more than 750 deaths. 

The spike is being blamed on the synthetic opioid fentanyl, detected in more than 60 per cent of the overdose deaths.

"Anybody working on the front lines during November wouldn't be overly surprised to hear these tragic numbers," addiction physician Dr. Keith Ahamad tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"We certainly saw overdoses presenting to first responders and emergency departments surging at astronomical levels at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver."

Dr. Ahamad says that with the increasingly toxic and poisonous illicit drug market and a lack of accessible treatment across Canada, "you're going to see skyrocketing overdoes and overdose deaths."

To  help address the crisis, Dr. Ahamd tells Tremonti that harm reduction needs more support.

"I don't think that we've really even come close to investing enough for harm reduction. At the same time we need to significantly increase the funding and expanding of the treatment system in Canada as well."

British Columbia saw 128 fatal overdoses in November alone. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Recently, the federal government announced it would make it easier for cities to open safe consumption sites.

UBC adjunct professor Mark Haden says it's a small step in the right direction but "fundamentally it's not thinking about it in the right way."

Haden points to drug prohibition as the main problem.

"When alcohol was prohibited, what we had is widely available strong, concentrated, often toxic alcohol on our streets," Haden says.

"And only when we ended that process did the death toll stopped from alcohol."

He tells Tremonti that illegal markets will always produce more concentrated products and proposes that in a context of a health service provision, people could come and receive heroin and be cared for.

"If we started providing clean pure heroin then we wouldn't have the same problem that we're seeing today."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino and WIllow Smith.