Emergency crews respond to an overdose call. (Black Press file photo)

Emergency crews respond to an overdose call. (Black Press file photo)

‘What we’re hearing about is a different kind of overdose happening,’ says Fraser Health

Health authority says benzodiazepine doesn’t respond to naloxone as it is not an opioid

A medical health officer says a new kind of drug is showing up in the illegal drug supply that doesn’t respond to naloxone – the opioid overdose reversing drug that has saved thousands of lives in B.C. amid the overdose crisis.

The drug – which can be legally obtained – is called benzodiazepine.

“While the overwhelming majority of illicit drug overdoses we are seeing are still predominantly due to opioids, we are hearing anecdotal stories from our community partners and provincial counterparts of benzodiazepine use,” said Dr. Shovita Padhi, a Medical Health Officer with Fraser Health. “They’re used to treat things like seizure disorder, however you have these stronger, unregulated benzodiazepines that are being mixed into substances.” said Dr. Shovita Padhi, a Medical Health Officer with Fraser Health.

”So sometimes you’ll get a double hit of fentanyl and benzodiazepine. They’re both down substances but they have different overdose responses.”

Padhi said there is currently no “antidote” that can be easily administered by the public for benzodiazepine overdoses.

“They have to come into the emergency department,” she said. “What we’re hearing about is a different kind of overdose happening. It can cause a lot of harm.”

Padhi shared the information during a Public Safety Committee meeting on July 15 at Surrey City Hall.

She told the committee that while overdose deaths are dropping in Surrey, the amount of overall overdoses remain about the same.

“We’re still seeing the same number of overdoses at our hospitals, while Surrey Memorial (Hospital) has seen a slight decline. Likewise, with ambulance events, we’ve seen a slight decline but roughly the same amount of numbers. So what does this mean? It means we’re still having a lot of overdoses, but it’s great because we’re catching these people early so they’re not passing away. Our services are working, however this really points to the fact that we still have a contaminated drug supply in our community.”

SEE ALSO: 33 people died of overdose in Surrey in first three months of 2019

SEE ALSO: Alert issued after 12 overdoses in Surrey in one day

As for deaths, Padhi said she is “cautiously optimistic,” about the drop.

“Our deaths with respect to overdoses are actually declining this year. This is a trend we’re seeing slowly happening across the region. I’m going to hold my breath for the rest of the year and hopefully it keeps on declining.”

Padhi said most deaths are occurring in North Surrey, Whalley and “especially” in the Newton area.

In the first five months of 2019, 57 people died in Surrey, according to data released on July 11 by the BC Coroners Service.

Last year, 214 people died of overdose in Surrey, up from 181 in 2017, 117 in 2016 and 76 in 2015.

Surrey’s drug death toll is second in B.C. only to Vancouver, which has seen 127 over death deaths between January and May 31 of this year. In 2018, there were 389 drug deaths in Vancouver.

Fraser Health also shared other statistics on July 15 with Surrey’s Public Safety Committee regarding its harm reduction efforts, as well as various substance use programs and initiatives. The health authority stated that there are 119 sites in the City of Surrey distributing naloxone, and that more than 5,000 kits were distributed during 2018.

As well, Fraser Health said 507,330 needles have were distributed in Surrey between July and December of 2018 and that of those, 406,428 were disposed of appropriately. Another 32,889 were collected through needle recovery programs, according to Fraser Health.

The supervised consumption site on Surrey’s 135A Street, SafePoint, has had 130,323 visits since it opened in June 2017 and 1,158 overdoses have been reversed, according to Fraser Health. Another 28 overdoses were reversed at Quibble Creek’s supervised consumption site since it opened in 2017, and it’s seen 1,123 visits.

Padhi said Surrey “is a leader in Canada with respect to overdose response” given it is the “second most burdened community in the country by this epidemic.”

“We are working on a new initiative for second responder system that we’re having in place for people who have overdose in their homes, and having a team from fire, and mental health and substance use visit their home and maybe do an intervention,” she said. “We’re working with the trades industry. Just look around, there’s so much construction going on. But our data shows that many of the people suffering from substance use disorder as well as overdose and overdose deaths actually work in this industry so there’s a lot of targeting we can do there.”

READ MORE: B.C. opioid overdoses still killing four people a day, health officials say

Meantime, B.C.-wide, overdose deaths are down by 30 per cent so far this year.

Across the province, there were 462 overdose deaths between January and May, all caused by the illicit drug supply. That’s compared to 651 deaths that occurred over the same time period in 2018, when B.C. saw a record-breaking number drug fatalities.

In May, 84 lives were claimed by illicit drugs in B.C., or between two and three deaths each day.

There are still concerning trends, however. Carfentanil, a tranquilizer used for elephants and other large animals, has been found in 102 fentanyl-detected deaths this year, compared to 35 such deaths in 2018.

Roughly nine in every 10 overdose deaths are still occurring indoors, including more than half in private homes.

READ ALSO: Surrey Fire Chief says ‘reverse engineering’ fatal OD victims will help tackle crisis

-With files from Ashley Wadhwani

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey Council Chambers. (File photo)
Surrey council approves $420,570 in grants for local arts, culture groups

This happened at Monday night’s council meeting, to cover 2021

Surrey-raised actor Michael Coleman in some of the roles he’s played since the mid-1990s. (submitted photo)
Chat with Robin Williams helped send Surrey’s Coleman into world of acting

‘For me, it was a game-changer,’ says co-founder of Story Institute acting school

In September 2018, former Vancouver Canucks player Dave Babych tees off at Northview Golf & Country Club in Surrey during the 35th annual Jake Milford Charity Invitational tournament. (File photo: Tom Zillich)
No ‘shotguns’ or banquets: Surrey golf courses pitch COVID-safe tournaments for 2021

With spring on the way, course operators book tournaments that will involve ‘tweaks and adjustments’

Delta City Hall. (James Smith photo)
Harvie, Kruger to represent Delta on Metro Vancouver board

Delta reps to sit on 11 of 16 standing committees and task forces

Members of the Surrey Fire Fighters’ Charitable Society picked up their new van from Mainland Ford in Surrey Wednesday (Jan. 27, 2021) after the society’s old van was stolen and damaged. (Submitted photo: Dylan Van Rooyen)
After thrift store van stolen and damaged, Surrey dealership helps out firefighters’ charitable society

The Community Thrift Store van was stolen in South Surrey in December

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Search called off for small plane that went down in rough water south of Victoria

Plane bound for Port Angeles from Alaska believed to have one occupant, an Alaskan pilot

BC Place Stadium in a photo posted to cisc-icca.ca.
Roof of BC Place a stage for performers during online music festival

‘This will be the first time any artists have performed from the 204-foot iconic Vancouver rooftop’

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Driver crashes vehicle twice in one day near Princeton

Abbotsford woman, 29, wasn’t injured in either incident

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Othman “Adam” Hamdan, pictured in front of Christina Lake’s Welcome Centre, was acquitted of terrorism related charges in 2017. He has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorism charges awaits deportation trial while living in Kootenays

Othman Ayed Hamdan said he wants to lead a normal life while he works on his upcoming book

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 prior to being sworn in by The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, November 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Premier Horgan calls jumping COVID vaccine queue ‘un-Canadian’

Horgan says most people in B.C. are doing their best to follow current public health guidelines

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart share a laugh while speaking to the media before sitting down for a meeting at City Hall, in Vancouver, on Friday August 30, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Vancouver mayor, Health Canada to formally discuss drug decriminalization

Kennedy Stewart says he’s encouraged by the federal health minister’s commitment to work with the city

Most Read