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10 people die from illicit drug overdoses every day in Canada, study suggests

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An average of 10 people died from an illicit drug overdose every day in Canada in the two years leading up to March 2018, according to a federal analysis aimed at giving a better picture of those at greatest risk from the burgeoning overdose crisis.

The Public Health Agency of Canada study shows those who died ranged from employed people who never had contact with the justice, social assistance or hospital systems to those with little work history and long-term legal and social issues.

The new analysis, released Tuesday, examines the social and economic backgrounds of those who died from drug overdoses in B.C., where the agency says the national overdose crisis is most acute.

Sarah Blyth, who pioneered the model for many overdose prevention sites in Vancouver, said many overdose deaths come down to a loss of hope.

« The more bad experiences a person has in their life, the more hopeless they feel and the less likely they might be to care, » said Blyth, who co-founded the Overdose Prevention Society in 2016.

« If you’re living in an alley and everything’s going wrong, your life continues to spiral in a way where there’s nothing positive. »

Sarah Blyth co-founded the Overdose Prevention Society and, along with a group of volunteers, has set up unsanctioned, pop-up supervised injection sites. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Deaths have doubled 

The analysis showed that in B.C., the number of people who died of an illicit drug overdose more than doubled over five years — from 293 in 2011 to 639 in 2016.

Nearly 75 per cent of those who died were men between the ages of 25 and 54, and most overdoses happen when people are using alone indoors, the study showed.

Paramedics respond to an overdose in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in 2016. (Natalie Clancy/CBC)

Almost a quarter of those who died visited an emergency room in the year before their death. Around 17 per cent of those hospitalizations were for opioid poisoning or mental health issues.

Blyth said it’s common for users who seek treatment to be back on the street within a week.

Mental health disorders

The B.C. Coroners Service has previously said more than half of those who died from drug overdoses in B.C. in 2016 and 2017 had been diagnosed with a mental health disorder or had evidence of being mentally ill.

In September, chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said it’s clear only a « hodgepodge » of services are available when it comes to mental health in B.C.

« We know from speaking with families of those who died that many times families are beside themselves trying to find help for their loved ones and trying to find help perhaps in that window of opportunity where the individual is looking for help or willing to accept help, » Lapointe said.

B.C.’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe has said ‘we wouldn’t be seeing the deaths we’re seeing … if not for fentanyl.’ (CBC)

Employment status

The analysis found only a quarter of people who died from drug overdoses were employed in their last five years of life. Those who did have a job made a little more than $28,400 — less than half the B.C. average.

About a fifth of those workers had jobs in construction, with 13 per cent working in building maintenance, waste management and other support service industries. 

Around 40 per cent of those who died of an overdose didn’t receive any social assistance benefits in their last five years.

Police contact up

The majority of people who died of an illicit drug overdose didn’t have any contact with police in their last two years of life.

Those who were accused of a crime in their last two years were most often accused of shoplifting. One-third of those died within three months of that police contact.

Blyth said drug users’ interactions with police and other officials need to be less about criminalization and more about getting help.

« They need help. You can do that by not having police arresting drug users all the time and sending them on to be treated in a health-based way, » Blyth said Tuesday.

« All of it points to safe drug supply, more detox, more decriminalization. »

With files from Yvette Brend and The Canadian Press

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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