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Some see link between spike in overdose deaths and pandemic-related measures

Factors cited include contaminated drug supply, social isolation and pandemic-related emergency payments.
fentanyl pills
Fentanyl is the main reason why overdose deaths have risen so dramatically during the past few years. The cheap, but powerful drug is often added to cocaine and heroin to increase a dealer's profit margin, often without the user's knowledge.

A swift response to the COVID-19 outbreak seems to have kept the number of deaths in B.C. well below that of many other jurisdictions in North America.

But overdose deaths have been on the rise this year and some people, including Bob Hughes, executive director of the Ask Wellness Society, believe the two are related.

“I think I’ve been pretty vocal about the perfect storm of COVID-19 and the need to isolate,” he said.

“You have more folks that are being asked to stay inside because of social-distancing measures, so that’s obviously a factor.”

Kamloops recorded 22 overdose deaths between January and the end of May.

Another factor, Hughes said, is a contaminated drug supply, something ASK Wellness has been dealing with for several years.

The third factor is additional funds coming from the federal and provincial governments, such as the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit payouts, which, Hughes said, “add fuel to the fire.”

According to BC Coroners Service statistics, fatal overdoses increase by between 35 and 40 per cent in the five days after income assistance payments each month.

Michaela Jyrkkanen, clinic and advocacy manager for The Mustard Seed Kamloops, also pointed to contaminated drugs as a cause, but cautioned against placing too much blame on support payments.

“It’s hard to correlate it with CERB payments,” she said.

“Many of our guests have received money and have used that for housing, food, hygiene items and an opportunity to get back on their feet, but there are always those who may not have the financial management skills to handle this influx of cash. The influx of resources can lead to an increased opportunity to consume.”

The Mustard Seed has kept notices from the BC Centre for Disease Control posted in the day room at its West Victoria Street outreach centre, with the intention of warning users to be careful of the increased toxicity in the drug supply and to always carry a Naloxone kit.

Jyrkkanen said The Mustard Seed outreach staff are available to connect people to services and programs, including nutritious meals, spiritual care, emotional support and connections to skills and employment training.