According to BC Coroners’ Service, in 2016 there were 914 apparent illicit drug overdose deaths in British Columbia. This is a 79.2% increase in the number of overdose deaths compared to 2015. Fentanyl appears to account largely for this increase, as the number of overdose deaths where fentanyl was not detected has remained relatively stable since 2011.
The Fentanyl Risk
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is around 50 to 100 times more toxic than morphine. When fentanyl is combined with other opioids (like heroin, morphine, methadone or codeine), alcohol, benzodiazepines, or stimulants like cocaine, it can increase the risk of accidental overdose. There is no easy way to know if fentanyl is mixed into these drugs; one cannot tell just by looking. As such, drug users may be taking fentanyl without knowing it, and putting themselves at risk for overdose.
December 2016 was the deadliest month on record, with 142 overdose deaths recorded in BC that month. No deaths were recorded last year at supervised consumption or overdose prevention sites.
Preliminary data for January to October 31, 2016, suggest that the proportion of drug overdose deaths in which fentanyl was detected increased to approximately 60% in 2016 from 30% in 2015. This figure may change as toxicology results are updated.
Fentanyl Related Calls to ADIRS
bc211 operates the Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Service (ADIRS). This is a provincially-funded toll-free information and referral phone line; 24 hours a day, seven days a week, people across BC can dial 1-800-663-1441 for resources around addictions and substance use. People in the lower mainland can reach ADIRS by dialing 604-660-9382.
In 2016, bc211 recorded an increase in the number of calls regarding fentanyl. From January 1 to December 31, we took 142 calls related to fentanyl, an increase of over 400% compared to 2015 (only 26 calls in 2015).
The number of calls concerning heroin and methadone slightly decreased in 2016: there were 571 calls in 2016 where the caller identified heroin as the substance used, compared to 624 in 2015; calls related to methadone went from 310 in 2015 to 296 calls in 2016. There were also 571 calls related to cocaine use in 2016 up slightly from 563 calls in 2015.
In many of the fentanyl-related calls, callers are asking for help. Some callers don’t know where to start but want help with drug addiction. Others callers are looking for detox centers and residential centers. There are callers looking for centers for themselves, and there are family members seeking services for their loved ones.
Some ADIRS callers are looking for counselling, while others are searching for general information about fentanyl, such as its effects on the body and how long it stays in the system. We even had a call from a municipality looking for information to educate city staff.
Today we have 1,165 addiction-related resources in our database and we are adding more. ADIRS gets well over 1,500 calls a month related to alcohol and drug use, and the 10 most highly referred to addiction services received over 4,000 referrals in 2016 alone.
As the fentanyl crisis continues, we at bc211 are making a concerted effort to ensure our database includes overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites, as well as centres where free naloxone kits are distributed.
If you have concerns about drug and alcohol use, whether it’s for yourself or someone you care about, you can call the Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Service for information, options and support. In the Lower Mainland call 604-660-9382; anywhere else throughout BC call toll-free 1-800-663-1441. We can refer you to a full range of counselling and treatment services across BC. All calls on the Alcohol and Drug line are confidential, multilingual, free, and available 24/7.