Social stigma and the COVID-19 pandemic may be worsening the ongoing overdose crisis in Grand Forks, according to a regional overdose task force.
“Overdoses are skyrocketing, and some of that may be attributable to increased isolation and increased drug use last year,” Amanda Erickson, co-ordinator of Grand Forks’ Community Action Team (GFCAT), told The Gazette.
Community Action Teams have been working to improve community access to health care and addiction treatment across B.C. since the province declared the overdose crisis an epidemic in 2016.
Meanwhile, Grand Forks saw more than a dozen fatal overdoses from “street drugs” and un-prescribed medications in the last two years, according to a recent B.C. Coroners Service (BCCS) report.
19 people died of drug overdoses across the Kootenay Boundary region in 2020. Thirteen people died in Grand Forks between 2018 and 2020, as suspected fatal overdoses hit 1,716 last in B.C. last year. Last year’s death toll saw a 74 per cent surge over numbers for 2019, the report found. The overwhelming majority of recorded overdose deaths (85 per cent in 2019) were attributed to the powerful opioid fentanyl, with 81 per cent of deaths occurring in men.
The report also shows a spike in “extreme fentanyl concentrations” in fatal overdoses between April and December of 2020, roughly overlapping the COVID-19 pandemic.
Erickson called for more education to “demystify” popular misconceptions that addiction is “a moral issue.”
These attitudes can be dangerous when they discourage people in the grips of addiction from reaching out for treatment, she said.
“We have to create a safe community so that we can support each other,” she explained, qualifying that much of her work “is about empowering people to ask for help with all kinds of substance abuse issues,” including non-illicit drugs like alcohol.
GFCAT is part of a network of organizations funded by the Community Action Initiative, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and the province’s Overdose Emergency Response Centre.
The BCCS report covered suspected fatal overdoses involving “controlled and illicit street drugs,” including “heroin, cocaine, MDMA, methamphetamine and illicit fentanyl.”
BC Ambulance crews responded to 23 overdoses in Grand Forks in 2020, up from 22 in 2019, according to a recent BC Emergency Health Services report.