A study by the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control says the rapid harm-reduction response to the province’s overdose crisis saved more than 3,000 lives during the peak of the emergency.
Researchers looked at a 20-month period from April 2016 to December 2017 when 2,177 people died of an overdose, concluding that the number of deaths in B.C. would have been two and a half times higher.
The study gives three programs the credit: take-home naloxone which saved almost 1,600 lives, the expansion of overdose prevention services, stopping 230 deaths, and increased access to treatment that saved 590 lives.
The centre’s Dr. Mike Irvine led the research and says despite the highly toxic street drug supply, the average probability of death from accidental overdose decreased because of the services provided to keep people alive.
Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy says the study speaks to the importance of harm reduction and the services are essential to turning the tide in the overdose crisis.
The province declared a health emergency over the crisis in April 2016 and the centre says in a news release that overdose remains the leading cause of preventable death in the province.
Irvine says their study is the among the first evidence that shows a combination of harm reduction and treatment interventions can save lives.
“It is useful information for jurisdictions considering how to respond to the overdose crisis.”
Overdose deaths increased rapidly in 2016, coinciding with the introduction of the powerful opioid fentanyl into the illicit drug supply.
Fentanyl or its analogues were detected in 87 per cent of all illicit overdose deaths last year.
Jane Buxton, the harm reduction lead at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, says the take-home naloxone program was already in place when the crisis emerged, allowing them to quickly expand the program to help save lives.
“Since the program ramped up in mid-2016 in response to the ongoing crisis, we’ve distributed between 4,000 and 5,000 kits every month.”