A total of 11 people died last week in Vancouver of a suspected drug overdose, making it the worst week on record this year of a crisis that continues to persist despite efforts from health care experts, emergency personnel and all three levels of government.
The death toll was recorded between July 23 and 29 by the Vancouver Police Department, which has been providing city officials with up-to-date data on the deaths. So far this year, 206 people have died in the city of a suspected overdose, according to a city news release issued Friday.
Seven people who died last week were tenants of Atira Women’s Resource Society, a non-profit housing operator whose CEO Janice Abbott took to Twitter last week to renew her call for a clean drug supply to prevent more deaths.
Abbott told the Courier in an interview last week that some tenants died in their rooms, others in the community. None was using drugs alone.
“While shared using spaces and safe injection sites are absolutely critical as part of the plan to keep people safe, the only solution is a safe supply of drugs,” she said. “We had a 20-year-old girl die. The people she was with didn’t notice [she had overdosed]. By the time they came and got staff, they were unable to revive her.”
Frontline workers suspect the increase in overdoses and deaths are due to a high toxicity in street drugs.
The data released Friday comes after B.C. Emergency Health Services said paramedics responded to 130 suspected overdose calls in a single day in the province. That occurred July 27, a few days after many of those living with an addiction received their social assistance cheques.
All lives were saved. The number of calls was only matched once before in April 2017.
Mayor Gregor Robertson called last week’s death toll in Vancouver “simply ghastly.”
He pointed out that despite the most recent report from the BC Coroners Service showing overdoses across the province decreased slightly in June, “we don’t see signs that we’ve turned a corner on this public health disaster in Vancouver.”
Echoing Abbott’s plea, the mayor renewed his call for people to have access to safe prescription drugs “rather than being forced to turn to the deadly drugs from organized crime on our streets.”
Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services also reported a surge in overdose calls, recording 147 last week. That was 47 per cent higher than the previous week, and 24 per cent higher than the weekly average for 2017.
The coroners service reported that 365 people died of a drug overdose in Vancouver in 2017.