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Researchers help find solutions to the overdose crisis

This story originally appeared on UBC News.

‘This is the defining crisis of our age’

M-J Milloy sees firsthand the impact of the overdose crisis in British Columbia.

As a professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and research scientist at the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU), Milloy works directly with people who use drugs. He and his family also live in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, a neighbourhood known for high levels of drug use, poverty, crime, mental health challenges and homelessness.

“The overdose crisis is something that my family and I see every day,” he said. “We’ve lost research participants to the crisis. I’ve met parents who have lost their children. As the father of an eight-year-old daughter who means everything to me, I just can’t fathom it. It’s a heavy responsibility, but it’s why we do this work—no one should ever have to lose someone as a result of something that is preventable.”

In B.C., unintended death due to illicit drug overdose is the leading cause of preventable death. While the Downtown Eastside is deep in the grips of the overdose crisis, the issue is also devastating communities across the country and affecting people from all walks of life. The number of overdose deaths in this province increased from 211 in 2010 to 1,535 in 2018. In 2016, the rapid and alarming rise of illicit drug-related overdoses and deaths prompted then Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall to declare a state of emergency which remains in effect to this day. Fentanyl and fentanyl-like substances—powerful synthetic opioids similar to morphine but 50 to 100-times more potent—continue to be a significant driver behind the crisis.

UBC’s role in tackling the crisis

In April 2018, UBC and BCCSU brought together researchers, community members and people who use drugs for a roundtable discussion to explore issues of stigma related to substance use and addiction. That discussion has helped inform the university’s response to the overdose crisis through its research, teaching and community engagement.

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