Mayor Robertson was joined today by Police Chief Palmer and Fire Chief McKearney outlining the urgent treatment resources needed to address the fentanyl crisis in Vancouver, with 9 overdose deaths last night and 31 suspected in November.
“We are facing a huge crisis with overdose deaths, but solving it is possible. We desperately need more treatment for addicts to truly break the cycle of addiction,” says Mayor Gregor Robertson. “The intensity and frequency of the emergency calls is putting a severe strain on our first responders, and is not sustainable. Better access to treatment and detox on demand is a crucial proactive approach to save lives and reduce the intense burden on front-line workers.”
The Mayor and Chiefs said an estimated 1300 people in Vancouver are using illicit opioids daily and are not getting treatment. These users need immediate accessible opioid replacement therapy such as Suboxone, Methadone, or prescription injectable heroin or hydromorphone, and currently only the Crosstown Clinic offers a prescription heroin treatment program. Another 100 residential treatment beds are also urgently needed to eliminate wait times and offer detox on demand.
Fentanyl use has been reported in all corners of Vancouver with a concentration of use in the Downtown Eastside, putting considerable strain on first responders in the area. Of the 31 overdose deaths reported in November, there were 12 deaths (suspected OD’s) in the area bound by Clark, Abbott, Powell, and Pender Street.
Recorded Overdose Deaths in Vancouver
2007 - 59
2008 - 38
2009 - 60
2010 - 42
2011 - 68
2012 - 67
2013 - 80
2014 - 100
2015 - 134
2016 - 159
“The fentanyl crisis has increased the urgency for better detox and treatment resources for those who are addicted to drugs. If we can help people fight theirddiction, we can reduce the number of people dying from fentanyl and other drug overdoses,” said Chief Palmer, VPD. “People approach first responders and other service providers on a regular basis seeking treatment for their addictions. However, that treatment is not always there and when it is, gaps in the system make it difficult to access. When people come forward for help to get off drugs we should be providing it – we need treatment on demand.”
In November, fire fighters working in the Downtown Eastside responded to 1255 incidents, establishing a new peak for emergency calls during this overdose crisis with 743 overdoses and 35 administrations of Naloxone.
"The women and men of Vancouver Fire & Rescue Services continue to do extraordinary medical response work coping with the immense challenges brought about by the opiate crisis, not the least of which has been a massive increase in call volume, specifically with the city's most marginalized population,” says Chief John McKearney. “We will continue to maintain an exceptional level of patient care to our citizens and as this crisis progresses we will work with elected officials and other responder agency representatives to find new and innovative opportunities that better address the well-being of our communities and that of our staff.”
The Mayor said the City of Vancouver will keep doing its part, including passing the 2017 budget earlier this week, which included an additional 0.5% tax increase dedicated to investing extra resources for first responders. The City will keep working with the Provincial and Federal governments to support efforts to save lives during this public health emergency.