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Vancouver police issue warning following string of drug overdoses

First responders attend a medical call in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in September.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver police have issued another warning after 11 overdoses were reported in a single day in the city's Downtown Eastside.

The move prompted the province's opposition party to call for more help for addicts and underscored the danger facing drug users ahead of a federal conference on the opioid crisis.

Police issued the warning after a series of non-fatal overdoses on Monday, echoing previous notices from police and health officials, who have urged users not to inject when they are alone and to watch for overdose symptoms.

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Read more: How opioid abuse takes a rising financial toll on Canada's health-care system

Read more: A Killer High: How Canada got addicted to fentanyl

Meanwhile, the city's supervised injection site saw 28 overdoses on Monday – none fatal.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott will host a conference this weekend in Ottawa to discuss a crisis that has killed hundreds in British Columbia alone and resulted in thousands of overdoses, taxing police, fire and emergency health departments. Topics on the agenda include public education, addiction treatment and prescribing practices.

B.C. declared a public-health emergency in April as fatal overdose deaths spiked across the province, many linked to the powerful opioid fentanyl, which is now detected in more than half of deadly overdoses. By the end of September, 555 people had died in B.C., surpassing the number of fatalities for all of 2015.

The province has since taken numerous steps to help prevent overdose deaths, including making naloxone, an overdose remedy, available without a prescription and providing it to firefighters in several communities, including Vancouver and Surrey.

However, the NDP's public safety critic, Mike Farnworth, says the province could be doing even more.

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"The government has failed to put in place the number of addiction treatment beds they promised – we're not even halfway there," Mr. Farnworth said Tuesday.

He also said B.C. could have followed Alberta's lead by introducing legislation to restrict pill presses, which have been linked to illicit drug production. Alberta passed a bill in May to restrict the presses as of Jan. 1, 2017. Police forces in B.C. have also called for such restrictions.

In her 2013 election platform, Premier Christy Clark said her government would create an additional 500 addiction spaces by 2017. To date, about 200 have been created.

In an e-mail, a provincial Health Ministry spokeswoman said that improving mental health and substance use services in B.C. "is absolutely a priority for this government" and that the province is committed to meeting its 500-bed goal in 2017, with new beds coming soon in the Fraser, Interior and Vancouver Island health regions.

As for pill presses, Ms. Clark has called on the federal government to restrict access to the equipment. That and other policies are expected to be discussed at this weekend's summit.

While the B.C. Coroners Service tracks overdose deaths, it is more difficult to estimate the number of non-fatal overdoses such as the 11 reported by Vancouver police on Monday.

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Insite, Vancouver's supervised-injection site, reported 768 overdose incidents last year and no deaths. Of the 28 overdoses the facility responded to on Monday, 22 were inside the facility. The previous day, they had just one overdose.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has noted a sharp increase in the number of naloxone kits dispensed to replace "used" kits as part of its take-home naloxone program, which launched in 2012. It dispensed 217 replacement kits in June, compared with 21 the previous June. The program has shipped about 18,500 kits to sites around the province – including emergency departments and correctional facilities – since its launch and has dispensed 8,813 kits to clients, according to a July, 2016, update from the BCCDC.

Since March, new kits have been shipped with three, instead of the previous two, naloxone ampoules, reflecting more incidents in which two or more doses are administered.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More


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