B.C. hits record number of illicit drug overdose deaths : coroner

More than 1,000 people have died as a result of the overdose crisis in 2017

The number of illicit overdose related deaths in B.C. has surpassed 1,000 as of the end of August.

Numbers released by the BC Coroners Service Tuesday show that 113 people died of overdose related deaths in August, up 79 per cent compared to the same month last year.

That makes for three-and-a-half deaths related to the overdose crisis each day this year.

That brings the total to 1,013, 83 more than the number who died last year. However, August is the second-least deadly month in 2017; only July, at 106 deaths, had fewer illicit drug related deaths.

The worsening overdose crisis led the BC Centre on Substance Use to release guidelines on injection opioid treatment earlier Tuesday morning.

Over four-fifths of the deaths in 2017 remain fentanyl related. In both 2016 and 2017, fentanyl-related deaths remain the most prevalent. Almost two-thirds of overdose deaths in B.C. over those two years had fentanyl detected, while less than have had cocaine and only one-third had heroin.

“It’s heartbreaking to see the continued high numbers of deaths throughout the province despite the numerous initiatives and harm-reduction measures in place,” said chief coroner Lisa Lapointe. “We also need people to know that no illicit substance in this province can be considered safe, whether you know your dealer or not.”

Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health remain the two health authorities with the highest number of deaths – 335 and 306, respectively.

Despite the high numbers in Fraser Health, Vancouver Coastal Health, Interior Health and Island Health all have higher rates of overdose deaths than Fraser Health.

The lower rates in Fraser Health can be explained by Surrey, as the biggest city in Fraser Health, having slightly less than half the deaths that Vancouver did, despite having four-fifths of Vancouver’s population.

Vancouver has been the epicentre of the growing crisis; more people died of illicit drug overdose related deaths in the city in the first eight months of 2017 than died province-wide in any year from 2007-2010.

The four cities with the most overdoses – Vancouver, Surrey, Victoria and Kelowna – make up approximately half the number of overdose-related deaths in 2017 so far.

Men continue to be the overwhelming majority of those who die of illicit opioid overdose related deaths. So far in 2017, 834 men have died, compared to just 179 women.

The crisis has struck people ages 30-39 the hardest. There have been 291 deaths in that age bracket, compared to 250 for ages 40-49 and 198 for ages 50-59.

Nine out of 10 deaths occur when people are inside, with over half of those taking place in private homes. There remain no deaths at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.

Lapointe reiterated that most overdose fatalities have happened when people are alone and unable to get help.


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katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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