Drug Overdoses Hit Record Highs In Vancouver

By McCarton Ackerman 12/13/16

City emergency departments recorded over 6,000 drug overdoses so far this year.


The coastal Canadian city of Vancouver continues to be rocked by a growing drug epidemic, with overdoses reaching record numbers as 2016 draws to a close.

Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services reported a nearly 45% jump in overdose calls between October and November of this year, increasing from 514 to 735. The latter number is the highest on record this year for the city. Global News reported that Vancouver Coastal Health emergency departments recorded 6,016 illicit or unknown drug overdoses this year between Jan. 1 and Nov. 26, with more than 25% coming from opioids. The figures also include 124 overdoses throughout the city during that same period.

The majority of these overdoses occurred in the city center and Downtown Eastside neighborhoods. Perhaps surprisingly, men accounted for more than 80% of Vancouver’s overdose deaths this year. 

Last month, the Ministry of Health reported that paramedics responded to 494 suspected overdoses throughout the greater Vancouver area during the week of Nov. 17, a record for a single week. The increase could be attributed to some drug users reportedly mixing heroin with naloxone in a bid to prevent succumbing to an overdose. Since naloxone only temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, this approach is not an effective way to stay safe.

City officials also noted in a news release that Vancouver’s drug crisis has led to a “significant increase in the number of needles in parks and sidewalks, and abandoned garbage in streets, lanes and sidewalks. While a significant increase in sanitation services was approved as part of the 2016 budget, the need is continuing to increase.”

The ongoing rise in drug overdoses occurs in spite of proactive measures from Vancouver residents to address the issue. With Canada’s lone safe injection site unable to take on any new clients due to an already extensive wait list, a DIY safe injection site began operating in Vancouver last September. Ann Livingston, founder of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), started up the harm reduction site with Sarah Blyth and has been servicing 25 to 40 people per day.

British Columbia’s provincial government has also allocated $5 million in emergency funding towards halting the drug crisis. The money will go towards medical resupply stations in areas with high overdose rates and additional modes of transportation for paramedics, among other initiatives.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.