Fentanyl overdose crisis
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While BC’s overdose crisis has tragically claimed thousands of lives over the past several years, a new study conducted by the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) has found that harm reduction efforts have prevented the total amount of deaths from being twice as high as it is.

The study, which was published on Wednesday, found that BC’s efforts to expand harm reduction services in the province prevented over 3,000 overdose deaths in a recent 20-month period.

Between April 2016 and December 2017, there were 2,177 recorded overdose deaths in B.C. However, during the same period, a total of 3,030 overdoses were prevented.

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The averted overdoses are being attributed to three health resources: home naloxone kits, supervised consumption sites, and opioid agonist treatments.

“Without these interventions, there would have been many more deaths,” said Dr. Mike Irvine, a postdoctoral fellow at the BCCDC, Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and Institute of Applied Mathematics at the University of British Columbia (UBC), who led the research.

“Despite a highly toxic street drug supply, the average probability of death from accidental overdose decreased because of the services provided to keep people alive.”

From 2012 to 2015, 5,074 home naloxone kits were distributed throughout the province. One year later, between 2016 and 2017, a whopping 83,685 naloxone kits were disbursed.

A breakdown of the overdose deaths prevented between 2016 – 2017 is as follows:

  • 1,580 deaths were averted by the Take Home Naloxone program.
  • 230 deaths were halted at overdose prevention services and supervised consumption sites.
  • 590 deaths by opioid agonist treatment or opioid replacement treatment.

“This study speaks to the importance and the effectiveness of harm reduction and treatment efforts and the fact that they save lives,” said Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.

“This is why we took immediate action increasing funding and supports to connect people with overdose prevention services, harm reductions supplies, and treatment options.”

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While the number of overdose deaths prevented is positive, the BCCDC notes that the crisis is still tragically developing.

Overdoses remain the leading cause of preventable deaths in BC, and issues with contaminated drug supplies (like fentanyl) continue to be severe.

“This is among the first evidence to show that a combination of harm reduction and treatment interventions saves lives,” said Irvine.

“It is useful information for jurisdictions considering how to respond to the overdose crisis.”