COVID-19 and Overdose Crisis – Two States of Emergency Colliding
On April 14, 2016, BC declared a public health emergency in response to a stark increase in overdose events and overdose deaths due to opioid use. Since this declaration, over 5500 people have died of overdose and every one of them was preventable.
Since the COVID-19 public health emergency was declared on March 18, 2020, BC has experienced 577 overdose deaths. While health measures taken to combat COVID-19 have been effective in preventing the spread of the virus, they have led to increased isolation and contributed to higher stress levels throughout the province. In March, there was a 54% increase in overdose deaths over February and an 91% increase in the average death rate since the beginning of the year. There have been 58% more deaths between March and June of 2020 than the same period of 2019 and there were a record number of overdose deaths in both May and June 2020 (BC Coroner’s Report, July 2020).
Overdoses can be prevented with the administration of Naloxone and by the timely arrival of emergency medical services. In 2020, 82.4% of overdose deaths occurred indoors, with 57% in private residences and 26% in other residences such as hotels, motels, supportive housing and single room occupancies. Only 0.4% of deaths occurred in a medical facility, 1% in a public facility and 14% outdoors. The majority of overdose deaths occur because the person was alone and they were not discovered until it was too late.
Among the non-Indigenous population, men are dying at 405% the rate of women and those involved in trades and the construction industry are the most at risk of overdose related death.
First Nations people account for 16% of overdose deaths in 2020 despite being only 3.3% of the population and are dying at 5.6x the rate of non-Indigenous people. First Nations women are particularly impacted, dying at 8.7x the rate of non-Indigenous women, almost on par with the rates of non-Indigenous men.
This crisis highlights the need for Métis-specific numbers, a Métis-specific understanding of the overdose crisis and a space to share and hear our stories. What little we do know about the impact the overdose crisis has had on Métis people paints a picture of pain and tragedy.
Using alone is dangerous. If you are not ready to talk to a friend or family member about your substance use there are options. Supervised Consumption Sites are a safe place to get supplies to use safely, consume your substances and to find supports to help you continue using safely.
The LifeGuard App (LifeGuard) sets a timer to wake you after consuming a substance. If you suffer an overdose while using the app, EMS will try to reach you before being dispatched to your location. The app is completely anonymous and will not access your location or information unless EMS dispatch is required. Since the app’s launch in June, over 1000 people have used the app successfully and EMS dispatched have saved 2 lives.
The Be Safe Community App (Be Safe) allows you to anonymously connect with a community member, or trained healthcare worker when you use substances. Simply open the app, input your address and make a call. You and your supporter can discuss expectations, intervention options and how long to wait if you become unresponsive. Once again this is completely anonymous until an intervention is necessary.
- Tell a friend or family member when you are going to use.
- Access a supervise consumption site.
- Use an app.
All of these options could save your life.