SURREY – Fraser Health is issuing a warning to people who use illicit drugs following preliminary data which showed a notable increase in the number of suspected overdose deaths throughout the region in the past week. The majority of deaths have occurred in private residences, followed by hotels and motels.
“There is a hidden epidemic, with nearly 70 per cent of overdose deaths in Fraser Health occurring at home,” said Fraser Health Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Victoria Lee. “Our targeted response is an important step in supporting people who are at a higher risk of dying.”
According to preliminary data provided by the BC Coroners Service, the Fraser Health region has seen a total of 17 suspected illicit drug overdose deaths over the past week in communities ranging from Surrey to Hope.
Some of the actions Fraser Health has been taking to respond to the hidden epidemic of overdoses in residences include:
- Since eight out of 10 people who died at home presented to our emergency departments at least once in the 12 months prior to their deaths, we are implementing a process in our emergency departments to identify people who may be at risk, and offer supports such as first-line treatment (Suboxone) for opioid use disorder.
- We are contacting all patients that overdosed at home within 48 hours of discharge from emergency departments to assist them in accessing our services.
- As many of these individuals have histories of injuries and pain management concerns, we are implementing opioid stewardship to ensure more appropriate prescribing practices. We have begun working with other health professionals such as physiotherapists and chiropractors to enhance the options for pain management available to people suffering from chronic pain.
- Since the majority of patients list family physicians in their health records, we are providing family physicians with a notification when their patients overdose and we are working with family physicians to reduce barriers to accessing naloxone.
- As this hidden epidemic is disproportionately affecting men between the ages of 19 and 59 in trade industries, we are engaging with groups outside the health care sector, such as employers, technical schools, and sports associations, which may be able to assist in identifying and supporting individuals who are struggling with substance use. This September, we will host a workshop to identify interventions for this population.
- Since many of these individuals live with a loved one whom they identify as a support, we are seeking opportunities to engage with these family members to help prevent overdoses from occurring.
We have unfortunately seen spikes in deaths periodically during this crisis, particularly in people who are using on their own. Our message to people who use drugs is that we recognize that stigma and shame can prevent you from reaching out to others about your drug use and this can be lethal. We encourage you to reach out and talk with a family member, a friend, or a trusted health professional – we want you to stay alive.
For more information about Fraser Health’s overdose prevention and response strategy, including tips for preventing an overdose, responding to an overdose, and information for schools and parents, please visit fraserhealth.ca/overdose.