Public health emergency declared

Spate of deaths sparks chief health officer to make the first declaration of its kind in Canada

A spate of deaths related to drug overdoses has sparked the chief health officer of British Columbia to declare an official public health emergency.

Such declarations are usually reserved only for the outbreak of contagious diseases, but in a first for Canada this is instead related to a series of overdoses of fentanyl that have claimed 100s of lives.

A report by the PostMedia Network, cited in the National Post, quotes provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall who states that there have been more than 200 overdose deaths in the province since the turn of the year.

He hopes that by making a declaration it will be possible to gather information rapidly about the overdoses and get help to users. The publication suggests that this may include opiate substitution programs as well as a wider distribution of antidote kits.

“We can look at where the overdose happened to see if there are hot spots or danger zones or places where we’d want to send harm-reduction outreach,” Kendall said in the PostMedia Network report. “On a provincial level, we can look at where is it happening, what are the ages of the people overdosing? What is their gender? Do they have commonalities that would help us target a particular program of intervention or awareness?”

It is expected that information will be gathered in the same way that it is accumulated for STDs, influenza and other infectious diseases.

Overdose fatalities have been climbing in the province for several years. In 2010 there were 211 overdose-related deaths – but this leapt to 474 in 2015. If the current rate continues throughout 2016, there would be around 800 deaths.