Number of B.C. fentanyl-related deaths spikes in first half of 2016

Fentanyl pills are shown in an undated police handout photo.
Fentanyl pills are shown in an undated police handout photo. Handout / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Fentanyl has been linked to 60 per cent of drug-related deaths during the first five months of 2016, according to new statistics from the B.C. Coroners Service.

Illicit drug overdoses have killed a total of 371 people in the first half of 2016, with 60 per cent of those showing fentanyl or a combination of fentanyl and other illicit drugs in toxicology reports.

The number of deaths is a 74.2 per cent increase from the same period in 2015, while the proportion of fentanyl-linked deaths have doubled.

It’s the biggest jump in fentanyl deaths since the drug started growing in popularity in 2012.

The updated report on fentanyl-linked overdoses shows people aged 20 to 39 accounted for 57 per cent of all deaths.

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Twenty-nine per cent of deaths occurred in the Fraser region, followed by 25.5 per cent on Vancouver Island, and 20.7 per cent in Metro Vancouver.

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Numbers also show it’s not just a problem in Metro Vancouver.

“For both Vancouver Island and the southern Interior, the number of deaths in which fentanyl was detected in five months in 2016 has exceeded the number for all 12 months of 2015,” a release from the Ministry of Public Safety states.

READ MORE: Fentanyl in Canada

While it’s effects are spreading wider, it’s still a drug that is abused largely by men, with the gender accounting for 78.7 per cent of deaths.

Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe says it is extremely important to call 9-1-1 immediately if someone appears to be overdosing. The use of naxolone, a lifesaving antidote, should also be used if available.

Health Canada has approved naloxone in the form of a nasal spray that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

“The number of opioid overdoses in Canada is nothing short of a public health crisis,” Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said in a statement last week.

“First responders, police and family members need immediate access to formats of naloxone that are easy to use so that needless deaths can be prevented.”

The B.C. Ministry of Public Health is calling the number of fentanyl deaths this year unacceptable.

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With files from Andrew Russell


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