A man injects drugs in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. Canada needs a new approach to tackle its overdose crisis, says the lead author of a new study that highlights a prevalence of overdoses involving non-prescribed fentanyl and stimulants in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

A man injects drugs in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. Canada needs a new approach to tackle its overdose crisis, says the lead author of a new study that highlights a prevalence of overdoses involving non-prescribed fentanyl and stimulants in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

New study calls for new approach to tackling overdose crisis

There have been more than 15,000 apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada since 2016

Canada needs a new approach to tackle its overdose crisis, says the lead author of a new study that highlights a prevalence of overdoses involving non-prescribed fentanyl and stimulants in British Columbia.

There have been more than 15,000 apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada since 2016.

British Columbia has recorded more than 5,000 deaths from illicit drug overdoses since declaring a public health emergency in 2016.

The study, published on Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, looked at 1,789 overdose deaths in British Columbia between 2015 and 2017 in which the coroner was able to determine the substances relevant to the deaths.

It reported that despite decreases in the prescription of opioids across the province, the death rate from illegal drug overdoses has continued to rise.

Dr. Alexis Crabtree, the study’s lead author and resident physician in public health and preventative medicine at the University of British Columbia, says it highlights what isn’t working when it comes to tackling the overdose crisis.

“What we found is that this overdose crisis is not driven by prescribed medications and de-prescribing initiatives alone won’t solve the overdose crisis,” she said in an interview.

In most cases where prescribed opioids were implicated in a death, the toxicology report also flagged the non-prescribed opioids in the person’s system, Crabtree added.

The study’s findings also highlight the declining role of prescription opioids and heroin in the overdose crisis and the rise of synthetic opioids and stimulants.

The current strategies on battling the overdose crisis “must do much more” than target de-prescribing opioids, the study concludes.

READ MORE: Talks needed on decriminalizing hard drugs to address opioid crisis, Tam says

Men continue to dominate the overdose death toll, making up more than 80 per cent of deaths, with people between the ages of 31 to 49 making up the predominant number of deaths.

One aspect that is often overlooked is the efficacy of methadone and buprenorphine, opioids used to treat opioid addiction, Crabtree said.

The study showed that few overdoses involved people with those opioids in their system, which Crabtree said she believes should make doctors feel more comfortable in prescribing them to drug users.

In B.C., the provincial government expanded the access to a safe supply of prescription drugs near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic due to concerns about the number of overdose deaths arising from isolated drug users.

That program, and subsequent concerns raised over the prescribing of illicit-alternative drugs, prompted the decision to publish the study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Crabtree said.

“A question or concern physicians have is ‘is the medication I’m prescribing contributing to overdoses?’” said Crabtree. ”I can understand why people have that concern. I think these results are really reassuring that prescribed medications are not a driver of overdose risks and supports physicians to prescribe under those risk mitigation guidelines.”

She said she agrees with the recommendations of provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry who called for the decriminalization of people who possess small amounts of drugs in a 2019 report.

At the time, Henry wrote that the province “cannot wait for action at the federal level.”

She reiterated those recommendations in June 2020, which saw 175 suspected overdose-related deaths.

“COVID-19 has made clear the government can act in a very fast and effective way when it prioritizes a response to a public health emergency,” said Crabtree. “I would love to see that same effectiveness applied to responding to the overdose emergency and protecting the health of people who use drugs.”

More access to overdose prevention and supervised inhalation sites should be some of the next steps forward both in B.C. and across the country, she added.

The federal government launched a national consultation on supervised-consumption sites last week, seeking comments from a variety of Canadians, including those who operate the sites and those who use them.

Nick Wells, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Drugsopioid crisisopioidsoverdoseoverdose crisis

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Three new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, Alberta under 10,000 active cases

The Central zone sits at 849 active cases, with 52 people in hospital and 10 in the ICU.

(File photo)
After several years in limbo, Parkland Manor to be torn down

Rimoka Housing Foundation has received funding and approval for the demolition

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced 16 additional deaths Thursday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
No easing of Alberta’s COVID-19 measures Thursday, 678 new COVID-19 cases

The province also hit 1,500 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the Canadian government should consider sanctions on the U.S. if they refuse to reconsider the decision to cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Keystone XL officially cancelled, Kenney vows to fight on

U.S. President Joe Biden cancelled the presidential permit for the pipeline on first day of office

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said province’s test positivity rate for COVID-19 is steadily declining. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
669 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta, 21 additional deaths

COVID-19 test positivity rate down to 4.5 per cent

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, updates media on the COVID-19 situation in Edmonton, Friday, March 20, 2020. Hinshaw says residents in long-term care and supportive living facilities will remain the priority as the province grapples with a looming slowdown in COVID-19 vaccine supply. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta long-term care residents remain priority in looming slowdown of COVID vaccine

There are 119 patients in intensive care and 1,463 people have died

Black Press File Photo
Maskwacis RCMP lay charges for attempted murder, kidnapping, and flight from police

Female victim remains in hospital in serious condition.

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
‘Gut punch’: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney blasts Biden on revoked Keystone XL permit

Kenney said he was upset the U.S. wouldn’t consult with Canada first before acting

Joe Biden, then the U.S. vice-president, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take their seats at the start of the First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders meeting in Ottawa, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau, Biden to talk today as death of Keystone XL reverberates in Canada

President Joe Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama

Prince Edward Island’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. A lozenge plant in Prince Edward Island has laid off 30 workers, citing an “almost non-existent” cold and cough season amid COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Almost non-existent’ cold and cough season: P.E.I. lozenge plant lays off 30 workers

The apparent drop in winter colds across the country seems to have weakened demand for medicine and natural remedies

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette takes the royal salute from the Guard of Honour as she makes her way deliver the the throne speech, Wednesday, September 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns, apologizes for ‘tensions’ at Rideau Hall

Payette, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada, has been the governor general since 2017

Grounded WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircraft are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. WestJet will operate the first commercial Boeing 737 Max flight in Canada today since the aircraft was grounded in 2019 following two deadly crashes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Passengers unfazed as WestJet returns Boeing 737 Max to service on Calgary flight

After a lengthy review process, Transport Canada cleared the plane to return to Canadian airspace

(Photo submitted)
Community Futures brings back Social Media Challenge for 2021

This time the challenge is for non-profits and community groups

Lucas Berg, left, with the backpacks filled with essential items he donated to the Red Deer Mustard Seed Jan. 19, 2021. (Photo submitted)
Central Alberta teenager donates filled 20 backpacks to Red Deer Mustard Seed

Lucas Berg, 14, of Ponoka County says he ‘just wants to help people’

Most Read