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Nanaimo, B.C. group ringing alarm on fatal overdose numbers, 400% increase in 4 years

Overdose deaths in Nanaimo, B.C. have climbed by more than 400 per cent from 2019 (27 deaths) to 2023 (112 deaths), according to the BC Coroners Service.

The rapid rise in fatal drug overdoses spurred a Nanaimo advocacy group, the Nanaimo Area Public Safety Association, to conduct a report on the crisis.

It aims to shed light on its fatal drug emergency as members of their community are dying at a higher rate than much of the province.

“We see these data as evidence of what the neighbourhoods have already known, so it’s sort of validation of their concerns,” association president Collen Middleton said. “It’s a bloodbath out here.”

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According to the report, Nanaimo’s overdose deaths accounted for four per cent of the total amount of deaths in the province, despite only having two per cent of the total population in B.C.

Nanaimo has twice the rate of toxic drug overdoses compared to anywhere else on Vancouver Island. According to BC Emergency Health Services, Nanaimo had 2,136 calls for overdoses in 2023 which is behind only Vancouver, Kelowna and Surrey.

“They’re tired, they’re fed up,” Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said. “And it is extremely frustrating – because the solutions lie at the provincial and to some extent the federal level.”

B.C. Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside said the province is committed to addressing the community’s concerns.

“We appreciate that there are challenges in Nanaimo and we are really committed to working with the community to make progress on them,” she said.

The group is calling for the end of the decriminalization of illicit substances in B.C., which was granted by Health Canada.

The exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act will last from January 31, 2023 to January 31, 2026. Adults in B.C. are not subject to criminal charges for personal possession of small amounts of certain illicit drugs.

The Nanaimo Area Public Safety Association is also recommending that provincial and federal governments declare the issue a Public Safety Emergency, to better address unhoused and mental health issues, and to better support local municipal government in providing services.

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