UBC and the Overdose Crisis

Five years ago, on April 14, 2016, the overdose crisis in British Columbia was declared a public health emergency.

Today, on the anniversary of that declaration, the crisis is still very much with us, and indeed, is worse than ever. Its effects are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and it impacts all communities in the province.

According to the BC Coroners Service, 2020 was the province’s worst year yet for overdose deaths. There were 1,716 deaths related to illicit drugs in 2020 in B.C., a 74 per cent increase over the 984 deaths recorded by the Coroners Service in 2019. This year has been even worse, as more than five people a day in this province are dying of a drug poisoning.

We recognize that the UBC community is not immune and that we bear a responsibility to do what we can to combat this public health emergency – both as leaders and as an affected community.

In 2018, I convened a president’s roundtable on UBC’s response to the overdose crisis in partnership with the BC Centre on Substance Use. As a result of that roundtable, we undertook a number of initiatives including:

  • Continuing to support the work of the BC Centre on Substance Use, which is now a research centre within the Faculty of Medicine with 15 principal investigators focused on evaluating overdose response, substance use related harms and identifying novel strategies to improve community well-being
  • Enhanced collaboration across health faculties and schools
  • Establishing a senior-level working group to undertake actions with immediate impact including gathering information about substance-use patterns, overdose risks and supports in place for UBC community members
  • Developing and supporting initiatives that help combat stigma and share evidence-based approaches
  • Improving information about harm reduction, addictions support and recovery services available to faculty, staff and students
  • Establishing the need for new supports for UBC students seeking or in recovery
  • Increasing the capacity of the UBC Learning Exchange to support community-based research initiatives
  • Supporting student-led efforts to establish a collegiate recovery program at UBC.

While proud of these efforts, we must recognize that they are not enough. Every overdose death is one too many. These are our friends, our family members, our students, our coworkers, our neighbours. They are our responsibility.

Santa J. Ono
President and Vice-Chancellor