Overdoses Hit All-Time High In British Columbia On Welfare Wednesday

By Victoria Kim 05/02/17

One Canadian province received 130 emergency calls for overdoses last Wednesday.

team of paramedics taking a stretcher out of an ambulance

Drug overdose calls in British Columbia hit a new high last Wednesday.

Emergency health services in BC, the westernmost of Canada’s 10 provinces, reported that 130 emergency calls for ODs came in on April 26, 2017 throughout the province, with nearly half of those coming from the Vancouver area. 

Canada’s Global News noted that it’s no coincidence that this single-day surge in ODs fell on “Welfare Wednesday,” when monthly welfare checks go out to people who receive income and disability assistance from the government.

Before last Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2016 held the record with 121 calls in one day for OD emergencies—also around the time welfare checks go out.

This is a known phenomenon. A 2016 study by the BC Centre for Disease Control found that drug deaths were 40% higher around the time when people receive government assistance. Scientists call this the “check effect,” and suggested that provinces consider adjusting the timing of the checks, or giving smaller checks on a more frequent basis. 

Last year, BC recorded a total of 931 illicit drug deaths

In Vancouver, the situation is only getting worse. During the week of April 17-23, the city reported 169 emergency calls for ODs—a 29% increase from the previous week. 

As of late April, the city’s total drug deaths for 2017 had reached 126. As for April 26, it’s yet unknown how many people, if any, died of an overdose.

“It’s atrocious that so many people are dying,” the City of Vancouver said in a statement the following day. “We need the BC government to take action with urgent health care interventions.”

Meanwhile, the country’s health agency, Health Canada, is working to ease access to pharmaceutical-grade heroin, for severely-addicted people who haven’t found success in other opioid-addiction treatment programs using methadone or Suboxone. 

Currently, Providence Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver is the only facility in Canada that offers heroin-assisted treatment. This requires Providence to apply for special access to the drug for each patient every six months to have it imported from Switzerland.

Expanding heroin-assisted treatment would mean amending Canada’s food and drugs regulations to allow currently unavailable drugs to be shipped over in bulk, during public health emergencies.

Last year, Health Canada overturned the ban on prescription heroin, allowing doctors to prescribe it in special cases. 

But since the situation is getting dire in places like BC, the need for more treatment options to save lives keeps on growing.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr