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BC reports major spike in deaths among homeless, largely due to toxic drug crisis

The news does not come as a surprise to an outreach worker in Victoria

By Brishti Basu
October 13, 2022
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

BC reports major spike in deaths among homeless, largely due to toxic drug crisis

The news does not come as a surprise to an outreach worker in Victoria

By Brishti Basu
Oct 13, 2022
A rally makes its way down the streets of Victoria on Aug. 31, International Overdose Awareness Day. Photo: Brishti Basu / Capital Daily
A rally makes its way down the streets of Victoria on Aug. 31, International Overdose Awareness Day. Photo: Brishti Basu / Capital Daily
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

BC reports major spike in deaths among homeless, largely due to toxic drug crisis

The news does not come as a surprise to an outreach worker in Victoria

By Brishti Basu
October 13, 2022
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BC reports major spike in deaths among homeless, largely due to toxic drug crisis
A rally makes its way down the streets of Victoria on Aug. 31, International Overdose Awareness Day. Photo: Brishti Basu / Capital Daily

A recent report from the BC Coroners Service found that the number of homeless people who died in 2021 was a whopping 75% higher than the same figure in 2020. 

Between 2016 and 2020, the province recorded about 153 deaths per year among the unhoused population. In 2021, that number jumped to 247, including 18 in Victoria and 44 across the Island Health region. 

The vast majority of these deaths across BC—about 79%—are attributed to the toxic drug poisoning crisis that has killed more than 10,000 people since 2016.

BC Coroners Service

In light of this report, BC’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe once again issued her monthly call for “the urgent creation of a provincewide framework for distribution of safer supply; the establishment of clear goals, targets and deliverable timeframes to reduce the number of illicit drug toxicity events and deaths; and the establishment of an evidence-based continuum of care.” 

It’s a call that has been echoed for years among the families of those who have lost loved ones to this crisis, outreach workers on the front lines, and substance users themselves.

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For Lacey Mesley, an outreach worker at AVI Health and Community Services, this latest Coroners report does not come as a surprise. The number of people dying in Victoria has only increased with time, according to her. 

“There are weeks where I'm getting calls multiple times a week, sometimes daily, about losses,” Mesley told Capital Daily. “Folks are doing their best to protect each other, to protect their community but it's starting to feel like a battle that they may not win.”

People are dying on the streets, at shelters, in supportive housing facilities, and transition houses, according to the data. Mesley says many temporary housing facilities do not have overdose prevention rooms available, which increases the chances of people using alone.

Along with a lack of equitable access to harm reduction initiatives, Mesley says a dearth of adequate social and health-care services also plays a role in more unhoused people dying than ever before. In a recent investigation, Capital Daily unravelled the discriminatory practices at one major Victoria hospital, where several people have alleged that homeless people and substance users are often denied medical care. 

“We need more education and onboarding for doctors…to be able to provide safe supply for their clients,” Mesley said. “We need nurse practitioners involved to be able to write scripts for people to access safe supply, and we need increased capacity to run these kinds of programs.”

In a response to the Coroners report, Murray Rankin, BC’s attorney general and minister responsible for housing, and Sheila Malcolmson, minister of mental health and addictions, issued a joint statement expressing their condolences to the families of the deceased, and stating their commitment to expand safe supply and open more supportive housing spaces. 

“We are working on all fronts to turn the tide on this crisis, including expanding treatment services and harm reduction measures like drug checking and prescribed safer supply, including for people experiencing homelessness,” reads the statement. 

So far Victoria has one small, federally funded program, run by SaferVic, that offers a limited supply of untainted fentanyl and prescription pharmaceutical alternatives. A Tyee article from March this year found that only about 500 people have access to real replacements for the toxic street supply in BC. 

Frontline workers in Victoria who talked to Capital Daily say they are not aware of any other initiatives from the province that would expand access to safe supply and other harm reduction measures in the region. 

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