Overdose deaths don’t capture full extent of opioid crisis

Brain damage, cardiac problems not reflected in data

By ANA ROSE WALKEY

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Inspector Bill Spearn presents an opioid crisis update to the Vancouver Police Board. Photo by Ana Rose Walkey.

The full magnitude of the opioid crisis in Vancouver and across British Columbia is not being measured to include people who survive an overdose but end up dying later in hospital from brain damage or dealing with serious ailments because of drug use.

Such a measurement would give the public a better picture of the devastation that illicit drugs, particularly fentanyl, are having on chronic and recreational drug users and their families, the Vancouver Police Board heard Thursday.

Insp. Bill Spearn of the Vancouver police’s major crime section updated the board on overdose deaths and fentanyl busts but acknowledged the statistics he used don’t capture injuries and damage caused to survivors of overdoses.

“We hear about the deaths, we don’t hear about the people who are revived and essentially braindead and then brought to the ICUs and remain there. This data absolutely does not reflect that,” Spearn said.

According to data collected by the Vancouver Police Department, the number of deaths in Vancouver has risen to 335 in 2017 from 136 in 2015, with a steady increase in fentanyl-related overdoses as a percentage of said deaths.

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Annual overdose deaths in Vancouver from Jan. 1, 2007 to Dec. 31, 2017. Final 2017 numbers estimated by the Vanconcouver Police Department but not yet confirmed by the B.C. Coroners Service. Image courtesy City of Vancouver.

The total number of confirmed illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C. in 2017 was 1,208, according to the B.C. Coroners Service.

These numbers, however, only represent deaths that occurred by direct way of an overdose.

With additional post-overdose deaths in mind, Spearn said he suspects that the number of illicit drug overdose deaths may be much higher.

He said it would be difficult to collect said data because any post-overdose deaths may be attributed to different causes.

Vancouver Police Department Chief Constable Adam Palmer said when somebody is found deceased in their room or in a laneway, that it’s clearly an overdose death.

“But, those longer term effects where somebody does take drugs, whatever kind of drugs it may be, and they have lasting brain damage, they end up in hospital and then pass away in days, months, weeks whatever it is, they may not be captured in the stats,” Palmer said.

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