The number of illicit drug deaths in B.C. for the first nine months of 2016 has so far surpassed the total number tallied for last year.
The BC Coroners Service broke down the numbers, spanning the period of Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, 2016, with 555 deaths from illicit drug overdoses, compared to 508 for the entire year in 2015. In particular, the number of drug deaths in September was 56, up from 49 in August.
These numbers continue to follow a trend seen in a previous report released by the BC Coroners in June that showed there were 308 accidental drug overdose deaths in the province from January through May 2016.
The coroner says fentanyl still remains a major contributor to the high number of deaths. This year, from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, there were a total of 302 cases where fentanyl was found, which translates to about 61 per cent of all illicit drug deaths. That number is more than triple the number of fentanyl-detected deaths for the same timeframe last year.
It’s the biggest jump in fentanyl deaths since the drug started growing in popularity in 2012 and the coroners’ report in July shows fentanyl-linked overdoses in people aged 20 to 39 accounted for 57 per cent of all deaths.
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.
Fentanyl overdoses have been steadily increasing in B.C. over the past five years. According to the Provincial Health Organization (PHO), the increase in drug overdose deaths for which fentanyl was present went from five per cent in 2012 to approximately 31 per cent in 2015.
In April, the significant increase in drug-related overdoses and deaths in B.C. prompted PHO Dr. Perry Kendall to declare a public health emergency, which was the first time the PHO has served notice under the Public Health Act to exercise emergency powers.
The BC Coroners Service continues to stress the importance of harm-reduction measures that need to be taken when using illicit drugs. These include never using alone, having naloxone available and knowing the signs of an overdose.
To prevent more deaths from overdosing, in June the BC Centre for Disease Control has distributed 8,000 kits containing the opioid antidote naloxone.
Health Canada removed the prescription status on naloxone in March to improve accessibility.
The kits are now available at over 100 establishments across the province and 1,200 kits have already been used to reverse overdoses, said Dr. Mark Tyndall, executive director of the Centre for Disease Control.
In addition, police are continuing to crack down on fentanyl distribution in the province.
On Oct. 10, Vancouver Island RCMP made a significant fentanyl seizure when officers checked a suspicious vehicle just south of Nanaimo near Cassidy airport. The male driver, a resident of Vancouver Island, was arrested and the search resulted in Mounties finding money and one kilogram of a powdered substance, which has now been identified as fentanyl.
This is one of the larges seizures for the RCMP in British Columbia over the past years.
~ with files from Jill Slattery