Downtown Eastside residents dying at an alarming rate, New Study
Downtown Eastside residents dying at an alarming rate, New Study

Downtown Eastside residents dying at an alarming rate, New Study

The death rate on the Downtown Eastside is eight times higher than the national average, but the reason for that may surprise you. A study from UBC finds no link between the mortality rate and drug overdoses.

Researchers recruited the participants from single-room occupancy hotels and the Downtown Community Court. Thirty-one of them died.

“We just felt an obligation to try to get a message out about this surprisingly high mortality rate for people living in the Downtown Eastside,” study co-author Dr. William Honer, head of UBC’s psychiatry department.

They started the study to look at risk factors for vulnerable people after hearing reports of an influx of patients from the Downtown Eastside at St. Paul’s Hospital in 2009, Honer said.

They were surprised to see the usual suspects, namely HIV and AIDS or heroin addiction, weren’t the highest risk factors for mortality, Honer said. Rather, psychosis – an impairment in connection with reality – and persistent liver infections related to not properly treating hepatitis C were more common in people who passed away.

Less than one third of people with psychosis and none of the people with liver damage were getting treatment for these problems, which can be treated, Honer said.

While he believes the mayor’s declaration of a mental health crisis has drawn attention to the issue, he said this study helps provide evidence proving mental health is a major problem.

“We’re helping to provide evidence to look at exactly what are the problems and exactly what are the consequences,” he said.

He recommends a more integrated treatment system where people can get mental and psychical help in one spot to help prevent higher mortality rates.
“It shouldn’t be one place for different treatments… we have to look at a more integrated way.”

Next steps could include better delivering health care along with housing, although that has yet to be researched extensively, Honer said. He also recommends improving the connection between emergency treatment at St. Paul’s and outpatient care.


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