From 2017-12-07

It will not come as a big surprise to many readers that our choice for Newsmaker of the Year is the overdose death crisis.

Unfortunately, it was an obvious selection.

As you’ve read on our website and others, people dying from drug overdoses is an ongoing public health emergency that continues to wipe out dozens of B.C. residents every month.


“An average of four people a day are dying,” said Judy Darcy, the B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, at a recent news conference in the Downtown Eastside. “This is heartbreaking, it’s unacceptable and it’s preventable.”

The most recent statistics from the BC Coroners Service show that 1,103 people died in the province of a suspected drug overdose between January and September of this year.

Of that total, 281 people died in Vancouver. To understand the magnitude of that number, 38 people died of an overdose in Vancouver during the entire year of 2008.

Why the increase?

One deadly reason: fentanyl.

The coroners service concluded in its recent findings that 83 per cent of this year’s deaths were connected to the synthetic opioid, which is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.

That’s a 147 per cent increase over the same period in 2016. In most cases, fentanyl was combined with heroin, cocaine or methamphetamines.

It is why many people simply refer to the huge spike in overdose deaths as the fentanyl crisis. The crisis, as the Courier’s editorial staff concluded, was more newsworthy than any other event or development in Vancouver over the past 11 months.

That’s not to say there were no contenders.

The provincial election, the city byelection, the spike in homelessness, the city’s new housing strategy, the series of regulations aimed at curbing the real estate and home-sharing markets and various protests at city hall and across the city were considerations.

But it is death by drug overdose that persists.

This year, families across the city and province lost brothers, sons, sisters, daughters, moms and dads in an unending wave of death that continues to roll over the best efforts of health experts and others fighting to keep people alive.

The fight has been carried out by the top minds who study drug addiction, the strongest status quo-challenging harm reduction advocates and by dozens of burned-out emergency personnel calling on governments for help.

They all want more options for alternative drug therapy. Immediate treatment for drug users who want it is imperative, too. So is barrier-free housing that allows an addicted homeless person to get stable before managing his or her health.

Some of those demands were highlighted a year ago this month when police Chief Adam Palmer joined now-retired fire chief John McKearney, Mayor Gregor Robertson and doctors in a unified plea for “treatment-on-demand.”

“Right now, there’s a huge gap in the system and it’s failing those people who put up their hand and ask for help to get clean,” said Palmer at a December 2016 news conference at the VPD’s Cambie Street precinct.

Read more here