Island Health lifts drug-overdose warning

Island Health has lifted its warning about a spike in illicit drug overdoses in Greater Victoria.

The alert was issued Aug. 7 after the number of overdoses doubled at supervised-consumption sites and overdose-prevention sites. The health authority said the sites had seen about four overdoses a week over the previous three months.

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On Aug. 15, the alert was extended for another week.

Island Health said Wednesday that the warning would not be extended again. The decision was based on regular monitoring of ambulance calls, emergency room visits, fatalities and overdoses at harm-reduction sites.

The B.C. Coroners Service said last week it had not seen a spike in overdose fatalities in Victoria.

The service is investigating the death of a teenage girl in the Jacklin Road area of Langford on Aug. 8. Family members identified her as 16-year-old Abby Barker and believe she died from a suspected overdose. A small memorial was held Aug. 14 by friends and family at Esquimalt Lagoon.

Island Health officials say spikes in overdoses typically stem from changes in the drug supply, particularly as they relate to the powerful synthetic opioids fentanyl and carfentanil.

The province declared a public health emergency in 2016 after a sharp increase in the number of overdose deaths in B.C. There were 474 apparent illicit drug overdose deaths in 2015, up from 365 deaths in 2014. Last year had the highest number to date, with 1,535 overdose deaths.

The increase has been blamed on fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is several times stronger than heroin. It has been detected in 82.1 per cent of overdose deaths since 2016.

There were 538 overdose deaths in B.C. in the first six months of this year, including 28 in Victoria.

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