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South Vancouver statistics reveal more overdose deaths per 911 call than other neighbourhoods

Officials say stigma around drug use prevents users from asking for supervision or drug testing

Naloxone is one of the tools drug drug users and their loved ones can access to help reduce the risk of overdose.
But officials say stigma around drug use is so great, most users still refuse to reach out for assistance. Cloe Logan photo illustration.

Reported by Cloe Logan

Last year, one person died for every nine overdose response calls in South Vancouver, according to the City of Vancouver’s 2017 opioid crisis report. This overdose death-to-call ratio is worse than any other neighbourhood in the city.

In comparison, the Downtown Eastside registered one death for every 29 calls.

An infographic from the City of Vancouver shows South Vancouver has the highest rate of death from overdose per 911 call in the entire city.

Overall, there are more overdose deaths in the DTES, said Christopher Steffler, communications manager for the Together We Can – Addiction Recovery and Education Centre. But 911 calls are more successful there, because people there tend to use supervised injection sites, use in the presence of others and that locals recognize the signs of overdose.

Steffler said the people who are dying from drug overdoses in South Vancouver are more likely to be recreational drug users, who don’t take possible fentanyl contamination seriously.

“The biggest thing for that is access to services and education,” he said. “We need more of that. We need more help.”

Vancouver Fire and Rescue public information officer Jonathan Gormick said that people in South Vancouver are also using alone and not telling anyone about their drug use.

“They’re not telling someone to come and check on them 15 minutes after they’ve used,” he said. “It’s a lot like the AIDS epidemic, how everyone stigmatized it at first, but then realized that it can happen to anyone.

“It could be you, or me, or your friend, or your roommate. No one is safe.”

Vancouver Coastal Health’s communications leader Tiffany Akins advised anyone who uses, or is considering using, to test their drugs, which can be done for free — though the only five locations are all in the DTES.

“There are drug testing kits out there,” Akins said. “But we recommend our services.”

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