A vast majority of British Columbians who died of an overdose struggled to maintain a job and relied heavily on social assistance, compared to the general population.
That’s according to a new study released by Statistics Canada this week, which looked at tax information of the 3,128 people who fatally overdosed in B.C. between 2007 and 2016.
The study correlated the changes to employment over the five years before each person died, and how this impacted their need for social assistance. The ages included ranged from 15 years old to older than 55.
Roughly 14 per cent of the 729 female victims were employed for all five years at some capacity, making roughly $22,000 a year. Twenty-eight per cent of the 2,399 men had continued employment, earning $42,000 annually.
The report stated that a majority of overdose victims “occupied a position of economic vulnerability for a considerable portion of their lives” and that incomes during this time in their lives “were generally modest or low.”
During the same five years, the need for social assistance increased for almost every individual, the study found.
In their last year before death, roughly 35 per cent of those between the ages of 15 to 24 received social assistance income.
That’s compared to those between the ages of 45 to 54, where about 80 per cent of women were relying on social assistance, and 55 per cent of men.
While further analysis is needed to determine what account for the decline in employment among older age groups, the report stated that “results are consistent with the argument that regular substance use gradually erodes the capacity for work.”
Spaces for intervention possible within work forces, social assistance
Based on T-4 tax slips, the study was able to break down trend in the types of employment worked by men. Roughly 28 per cent of those who died before the age of 35 worked in construction. That percentage dropped to about 24 per cent of those who died between 35 and 54 years old.
“Employers and workplaces, particularly those in the construction sector, are points of intervention that warrant consideration for reaching younger men,” the report suggested.
Meanwhile, given the low rates of employment among women, social service agencies could play a role in drug intervention, as well.
More than 2,800 people died in B.C. of an overdose between 2017 and 18. So far this year, 90 people have lost their life to illicit drugs, according to the latest data available from the BC Coroners Service.