NANAIMO — Two people died of overdoses in Nanaimo in November, bringing the total number of drug-related deaths in the city to 25 this year, according to data released Monday by B.C. health officials.
The 25 drug overdose deaths between January and the end of November represent a record high for Nanaimo. The report released by the BC Coroners Service shows the previous high dating back to 2007 was 20 deaths in 2013.
The annual number of fatalities from illicit drug overdoses in British Columbia reached 755 by the end of November, with 128 falling victim in November alone.
"We continue to see an increase overall on the island which is substantively higher than previous years," said Island Health Medical Health Officer Dr. Paul Hasselback. "All of this is just a continuation of a very disconcerting trend about how overdose fatalities are tragically affecting our communities."
Hasselback says they don't have a good explanation for the reason why November was such a deadly month, noting it likely relates to continued innovation by drug dealers. He says the powerful drug carfentanil, even more potent that fentanyl, has been appearing, although lab results are unclear at this point on its impact.
The majority of the overdoses are occurring among people who are experienced in using illicit drugs, not those that are experimenting, says Hasselback.
"We (Nanaimo) have remained at a much higher level of overdose fatalities over the last four years than prior to that. I think what we have seen this year is perhaps less of an increase than other places on the island," he said.
Nanaimo Fire Rescue Chief Craig Richardson says their crews have definitely been responding to an increase in overdose calls, noting December is on pace to be one of the busiest months of the year. Another trend, he says, has been multiple people overdosing at one location.
"Our busiest area where we're seeing the majority of the overdoses localized is in the downtown area," said Richardson.
He says their crews have administered naloxone, the overdose reversing drug, on eight occasions since they started carrying it in the summer. He notes naloxone has likely been administered many more times by paramedics.
Richardson says Fire Rescue is working on improving their record keeping surrounding overdose response calls, since they have traditionally been focused on stats around fire incidents.
"We are working with Island Health to try and find better ways to identify overdoses when they occur so we can notify health authorities so they're aware of possible trends of stronger drugs that are hitting the streets, so the whole system can be alerted earlier."
He says Nanaimo's first responders are not experiencing the same kind of burden as other parts of the province, so the current resources are managing to cope.
Hasselback says the conversation surrounding supervised consumption and overdose prevention needs to continue in Nanaimo, because it looks like something that is needed.