Up to 13 people die from drug overdoses in B.C. within hours
Published Friday, December 16, 2016 3:57PM EST
Last Updated Sunday, December 18, 2016 2:19PM EST
The BC coroners’ service says up to 13 people died from drug overdoses in the province within hours, six of them in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Health officials said that in addition to the six overdose deaths in the Vancouver neighbourhood, another two were suspected to be drug-related, and five others died elsewhere in the province.
"We are not sure what has caused this very distressing spike in fatalities," said chief coroner Lisa Lapointe in a statement. "It will take detailed toxicology testing and further investigation to try to determine that."
Authorities have blamed the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl for the surge in drug-related deaths over the past year.
“It’s desperate times in Vancouver, and it’s hard to see any silver lining right now when we don’t seem to have hit rock bottom with the number of people dying,” said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. “We are at out wits end here.”
Canada’s fentanyl crisis has been escalating for several months now. More than 600 people have died in B.C. alone. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admits more needs to be done.
“It’s something we are seeing unfold in communities across the country and we need to do a better job of responding to it and saving people from the opioid crisis,” he told CTV's Lisa LaFlamme on Friday.
Vancouver Fire Chief John McKearney said his department responded to more than 750 overdoses last month. December is on track to top that figure with 353 reported in the first two weeks. He estimates there could be as many as 1,600 reports of overdoses in 2016.
Frontline workers have been using Naloxone, which can reverse fentanyl overdoses. But Robertson said Naloxone isn’t enough -- those suffering from addiction need long-term help.
“Right now there’s a huge gap in the system, and it’s failing those people who put up their hand and asked for help to get clean,” said Const. Adam Palmer.
“It's going to take dramatic and immediate action from the B.C. government to invest in treatment options," said Robertson at a press conference Friday.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark promised to add 500 beds by early next year. So far, only 200 have been made available. Most of which are already taken.
With a report from CTV’s Vancouver Bureau Chief Melanie Nagy and files from The Canadian Press