Vancouver – The BC Drug Overdose and Alert Partnership (DOAP), chaired by the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), has released an opioid overdose response strategy to address the issue of opioid overdose deaths in BC.
“I thank the BC Drug Overdose and Alert Partnership for their work on this strategy,” said Health Minister Terry Lake. “We take the issue of drug overdoses very seriously, and these recommendations show B.C. is on the right track. The province recently announced that fire fighters and community-based paramedics can now carry and administer naloxone for patients experiencing opioid drug overdoses. We and our partners in the health system have a great deal of other work currently underway to address the partnership’s recommendations.”
In 2015, there were 465 apparent illicit drug overdose deaths, a 27% increase from the 366 deaths in 2014. The majority of these overdose deaths were due to opioids like heroin, morphine, oxycodone and fentanyl that may have been used in combination with other drugs or alcohol. The annual mortality rate due to illicit drug overdose in BC has increased by 50% between 2010 and 2015.
A key recommendation contained in the proposed provincial response strategy is to increase access to naloxone. Naloxone is an antidote to an overdose from opioids. It is a safe medication that quickly reverses the effects of opioids on the body by restoring breathing within 2-5 minutes.
“The DOAP committee has identified the need for accessible naloxone in the community setting,” said Dr. Jane Buxton, harm reduction epidemiologist at BCCDC. “This, along with the other recommendations, will be integral in reducing the harms from an opioid overdose and preventing overdose deaths.”
The strategy contains other recommendations for actions that various municipal, provincial and national agencies can take to expand education and prevention efforts in order to address BC’s overdose crisis.
The recommendations include:
- Changes in policy to make naloxone a non-prescription medication, which can increase access for the public, family and friends of people at risk of an overdose and non-medical staff in community settings.
- Changes in practice to increase access to naloxone can mean expanded availability in places like community health centres, acute care settings and other facilities where overdoses can occur.
- Improved overdose prevention education and training to increase awareness, recognition and response strategies.
- Increasing physician awareness of best practices for opioid prescribing and encouraging physicians to review patients’ medical and medication histories before prescribing opioids for pain management.
- Enhanced surveillance and data sharing to improve public health and safety planning to reduce harms.
"Making naloxone more accessible, and improving best practices around prescribing opioids can mean the difference between life and death," says Leslie McBain, a founding member of Mothers United and Mandated to Saving the Lives of Drug Users (mumsDU), a coalition of Canadian mothers who have lost sons and daughters to overdose and other drug related harms. "As a parent who has lost our only child to an accidental overdose, I agree with these recommendations, and I know these actions will help prevent more tragic deaths from occurring."
The full list of recommendations is available here
The DOAP is a multi-sectoral committee that works to prevent and reduce the harms associated with consuming substances. Committee members include: BCCDC, Centre for Addictions Research of BC, BC Coroners Service, BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDs, Ministry of Health, regional health authorities, Provincial Toxicology Centre, BC Drug and Poison Information Centre, BC Emergency Health Services, Health Canada Drug Analysis Service Laboratory, Vancouver Police Department and other enforcement agencies, and people who use drugs.
The BC Centre for Disease Control, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority, provides provincial and national leadership in public health through surveillance, detection, treatment, prevention and consultation services. The Centre provides both direct diagnostic and treatment services for people with diseases of public health importance and analytical and policy support to all levels of government and health authorities.
Provincial Health Services Authority
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