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Rise in drug overdose deaths in BC tied to 'Welfare Wednesday'

By Karen Graham     Dec 23, 2016 in Health
In November, a study linking overdose deaths in British Columbia with the issuance of social assistance checks was published. And bearing out that study, December 22 was a very busy night for paramedics and hospital emergency rooms in Vancouver.
BC Ambulance Service says they received 100 calls for possible overdoses on Welfare Wednesday, with 52 coming from Vancouver alone, while the staff at Mobile Medical Unit (MMU) ended up treating 25 overdose patients, up from a record 15 OD's treated in a single day.
Adding to the statistics, the B.C. Coroners Service announced the total number of fatal overdose deaths hit 128 in November, bringing the total for the year to 775 deaths, an increase of 70.4 percent over 2015. In 374 of the deaths, fentanyl was the drug detected, reports the Vancouver Sun.
As for carfentanil, which is 10-times more powerful than fentanyl, no one knows how many deaths were linked to the powerful animal tranquilizer because no tests are available.
In an added twist to this sad story of drug overdoses, Bronwyn Barter, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. told reporters that on Wednesday night, people who had received their public assistance checks were overdosing right outside the stores that cash their checks.
"There seems to be a little bit of one-stop shopping happening. A lot of the drug users are taking their welfare support cheques. They're going right into the Money Marts and there's a dealer outside waiting for them," Barter said.
The Vancouver Health Authority reports that 666 people visited Insite supervised drug site locations between 12:01 a.m. Dec. 21 and 6 a.m. Dec. 22. The drug sites are just a few of a number of places recently opened in Vancouver, Victoria and Surrey. But ambulance crews are stressed. Not only do they have the worry of taking care of overdose victims, but there is the worry over people with other health emergencies, many of them having to wait long periods for an ambulance.
In a study, published in July in the International Journal of Drug Policy, it was found that deaths from drug overdoses in B.C. over the past five years were 40 percent higher during the week when social assistance checks were issued than during the rest of the month.
The conclusion reached in the study could prevent more harm: "There is, therefore, a strong rationale for examining alternative disbursement schedules experimentally (e.g., varying the timing of cheque issuance among recipients, issuing smaller and more frequent cheques, etc.) in order to reduce this avoidable mortality and the demands on health and social services."
More about drug overdoses, welfare wednesday, fentanyl overdoses, Vancouver, opioid crisis