An analysis of drug deaths in Surrey and B.C. has revealed that the majority of people who die of overdose are male and had no police contact in the two years preceding their death.
The study, released on May 16, analyzed deaths between 2011 and 2016 – 332 in Surrey and 2,362 across the province.
It was found that 81 per cent of those who died during that time period in Surrey were male, while province-wide that dropped slightly to 77 per cent.
Men aged 25 to 54 accounted for approximately six in 10 fatal overdoses, both in Surrey (62 per cent) and in B.C. overall (57 per cent).
Meantime, the analysis found that 64 per cent of the people who died of overdose in Surrey between 2011 and 2016 had no contact with police in the 24 months prior to their death. Province-wide that rose slightly to 66 per cent, but in both cases, the number equates to roughly two-thirds of overall deaths.
“While individuals implicated in a fatal illicit drug overdose had a much greater likelihood of coming into contact with police compared to the general population (30.3 persons accused of a criminal violation per 1,000 population in British Columbia in 2016 compared to a rate of 337.0 per 1,000 persons in the fatal illicit overdose cohort having a contact with police in the 24 months prior to their fatal overdose), the finding that the majority of the fatal illicit overdose cohort never came into contact with police in relation to a criminal incident challenges the conception that individuals who overdose are most often involved in criminal activity,” notes Statistics Canada in a release.
“In fact, the results indicate that those impacted by illicit drug overdoses are a diverse population, and thus it is important to understand how these individuals differ from those who did have a formal contact with police prior to their death.”
Stats Can also found that in Surrey and across B.C., one in seven decedents had three or more contacts with police in the two years prior to death.
Among that group, the majority came into contact with police for a non-violent crime (83 per cent), which rang true across B.C. and in Surrey.
The offences tended to be “minor,” according to Stats Can.
One-third of police contacts involved at least one property crime.
In all, 11 per cent of police contacts involving illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C. and Surrey were drug-related. Possession of cannabis and/or cocaine were the most prevalent drug offences.
The analysis also found that those who did have contact with police earned less employment income.
This group was “less likely to experience continuous employment, made less employment income and were more likely to be reliant on social assistance relative to decedents who has no contact with police in the 24 months prior to death,” according to Stats Can.
Overall, most of those who died (66 per cent) held some form of employment in at least one of the years prior to death, regardless of any contact with police.
Income differences were also found when analyzing these two groups.
Stats Can reports that across B.C. “decedents who had contact with the police earned less than their counterparts who did not have contact with police in the 2 years preceding their overdose death. Specifically, the mean total income among decedents who had contact with the justice system for the last year they were employed was $15,325, an amount significantly lower than those who did not have contact with police ($25,207).”
And, more than two-thirds (68 per cent) of decedents in B.C. who had contact with police had also received social assistance benefits in the five years prior to their death, a proportion that was significantly higher than their counterparts who had no contact with police (55 per cent).
Meantime, those who had a contact with police were more likely to have received social assistance in each of the five years prior to their death (34 per cent), in comparison to people who did not (30 per cent).
It was also found that those who did have police contact were more likely to be hospitalized than those who did not.
“These findings highlight the relative diversity among those who experienced a fatal illicit drug overdose, and illustrate that the opioid epidemic is not restricted to any particular group or population but rather multiple profiles and sub-populations,” Stats Can notes in a release. “While many decedents never came into contact with police, the results of the study indicate that, among those who did, it was not unusual for them to have had multiple contacts with police. The elapsed time between the last contact with police and the overdose death was relatively short, as three-quarters of decedents who had contact with police fatally overdosed within one year of that contact.”
Stats Can adds: “While this analysis focused on those who died of an illicit drug overdose in British Columbia, and the City of Surrey more specifically, the information gleaned from this study can be extrapolated to inform other cities in the province of British Columbia and the rest of the country, more broadly. Identifying the primary risk factors and those at greatest risk of preventable illicit drug-related deaths will help support the development of evidence-informed interventions, precision programming and policies aimed at preventing future overdoses and saving lives.”
Meantime, B.C. Coroners Service reports that 33 people died of overdose in Surrey in the first three months of 2019.
Province-wide, Surrey’s overdose death rate remains second only to Vancouver so far this year, which saw 72 overdose deaths in the first three months of 2019.
In 2018, 1,514 people in B.C. died of drug overdose, including 389 from Vancouver and 212 in Surrey.
Across B.C., there were 268 fatal overdoses from illicit drugs in the first quarter of the year, and a concerning amount of those deaths involved carfentail – a drug more toxic than fentanyl.
Carfentanil, a powerful opioid used by veterinarians for large animals like elephants, was found in toxicology reports on 64 British Columbians who died between January and March, the BC Coroner Service said Wednesday.
That’s compared to 35 deaths linked to the opioid in all of 2018.
Carfentanil is 100 times more toxic than fentanyl – the illicit street drug that accounts for 80 per cent of the 3,200 overdose deaths that have occurred since 2017.
In March, 104 people fatally overdosed in B.C., or roughly three people per day. That is 34 per cent less than the same period in 2018.