The overdose crisis in BC

April 14, 2017

On Thursday, April 14, 2016, BC’s provincial health officer declared a public health emergency in response to the rise in drug overdoses and deaths.


Illicit drug deaths in BC have increased each year since 2012 and, by mid–2015, provincial rates of illicit drug deaths surpassed those seen in 1997–98 when a public health emergency in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside was declared in response to an epidemic in HIV infection rates and illicit drug fatalities. 

This recent epidemic is characterized by the increasing proportion of deaths in which illicit fentanyl – an opioid substance - has been detected. Fentanyl was detected in 5% of illicit drug deaths in 2012 and this has increased annually reaching 60% in 2016.


On April 14, 2016, Dr. Perry Kendall, Provincial Medical Health Officer declared a public health emergency under the Public Health Act in response to increasing overdoses and overdose deaths in our province. Details are available in the Ministry of Health News Release (


In response to this emergency declaration, The BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) is collaborating with the BC Ministry of Health, BC Observatory for Population and Public Health (BCOPPH), Regional Health Authorities, Provincial Overdose Surveillance and Naloxone Task Groups, BC Emergency Health Services, BC Coroners Service, and other stakeholders to support the response.  


BCCDC’s priorities are overdose surveillance and implementing expanded harm reduction activities, including the expansion of Take Home Naloxone sites in emergency departments, correctional facilities, and communities.


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