Dr. Del Dorscheid fears B.C. is at risk of losing an entire generation of drug users if policy-makers and medical professionals don’t tackle the root cause of addiction first.
As a critical care doctor at St. Paul’s Hospital in Downtown Vancouver, Dorscheid is on the front lines of an overdose crisis that he says shows no signs of abating.
“The problem is that we still have three, four, five deaths every day from fentanyl and that’s unchanging,” he said.
There have been more than 1,200 overdose deaths in B.C in the last 15 months. Fentanyl was detected in a majority of those cases.
B.C. aboriginal leaders seek overdose death data
“Right now, I don’t see us being able to solve this problem,” Dorscheid said. “We will lose an entire generation, I feel, to this opiate crisis.”
The significant increase in drug-related overdoses and deaths prompted Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall to declare a public health emergency in April of last year, but Dorscheid describes the province’s strategy as “almost without purpose.”
WATCH: Heartbreaking stories from the frontlines of the fentanyl crisis
“We’re trying to keep people alive — safe injection centres, the mobile hospital units that were up through the winter. The real question we have to get at is, what’s driving the addiction? Where are the mental health strategies and policies?”
Despite a rising death count, Kendall believes the government’s response has been exemplary.
Mom warns of dangers of fentanyl by posting picture of dying son on Facebook
The government says it has spent more than $55 million and counting on the opioid crisis, including funding for mental health.
“This government and our public health responders and our frontline responders and our physicians and the community who use themselves have responded in a way which probably outshines any other jurisdiction on this continent,” he said.
Dorscheid said more needs to be done to prevent B.C. from losing an entire generation to the opioid crisis.
“This generation we may not be able to do much [for], and I feel sad about that,” he said. “Somehow we have a generation of individuals that are addicted — most with … mental health [issues] that were unrecognized or untreated or untreatable — and we may have to really focus on the next generation to really be able to deal with this problem.”
— With files from Rumina Daya