Written by Dr. Victoria Lee, Chief Medical Health Officer and Vice President, Population and Public Health

This morning, we issued a warning to people who use drugs as we have seen an increase in the number of number of suspected overdose deaths throughout our region in the past week.

This morning, we issued a warning to people who use drugs following preliminary data from the BC Coroners Service which showed a notable increase in the number of suspected overdose deaths throughout the region in the past week. The majority of deaths have occurred in private residences, followed by hotels and motels.

There is a hidden epidemic, with nearly 70 per cent of overdose deaths in Fraser Health occurring at home. We have a targeted response to support people who are at a higher risk of dying.

Some of the actions Fraser Health has been taking to respond to the hidden epidemic of overdoses in residences include:

  • Since eight out of 10 people who died at home presented to our emergency departments at least once in the 12 months prior to their deaths, we are implementing a process in our emergency departments to identify people who may be at risk, and offer supports such as first-line treatment (Suboxone) for opioid use disorder.
  • We are contacting all patients that overdosed at home within 48 hours of discharge from emergency departments to assist them in accessing our services.  
  • As many of these individuals have histories of injuries and pain management concerns, we are implementing opioid stewardship to ensure more appropriate prescribing practices. We have begun working with other health professionals such as physiotherapists and chiropractors to enhance the options for pain management available to people suffering from chronic pain. 
  • Since the majority of patients list family physicians in their health records, we are providing family physicians with a notification when their patients overdose and we are working with family physicians to reduce barriers to accessing naloxone. 
  • As this hidden epidemic is disproportionately affecting men between the ages of 19 and 59 in trade industries, we are engaging with groups outside the health care sector, such as employers, technical schools, and sports associations, which may be able to assist in identifying and supporting individuals who are struggling with substance use. This September, we will host a workshop to identify interventions for this population.
  • Since many of these individuals live with a loved one whom they identify as a support, we are seeking opportunities to engage with these family members to help prevent overdoses from occurring. 

We have unfortunately seen spikes in deaths periodically during this crisis, particularly in people who are using on their own. Our message to people who use drugs is that we recognize that stigma and shame can prevent a person from reaching out to others about their drug use and this can be lethal. We encourage them to reach out and talk with a family member, a friend, or a trusted health professional.

Read the full public service announcement.

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