Despite an emergency call and the approval of naloxone kits, the number of illicit drug deaths in B.C. is continuing to rise this year at a rate of about two each day, according to the latest statistics released by the BC Coroners Service.
Tracking number for the first 10 months of 2016, the number of illicit drug overdoses was 622, compared to 397 for the same period last year. The total number of illicit drug deaths in October was 63, up from 57 in September.
These numbers continue to follow a trend seen in a previous report released by the BC Coroners in October that showed there were 555 accidental drug overdose deaths in the province from January through September 2016.
The coroner says fentanyl still remains a major contributor to the high number of deaths. This year, from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, there were a total of 332 cases where fentanyl was found, which translates to about 60 per cent of all illicit drug deaths. That number is almost triple the number of fentanyl-detected deaths for the same timeframe last year.
The drug started growing in popularity in 2012 and the coroners’ report in July showed fentanyl-linked overdoses in people aged 20 to 39 accounted for 57 per cent of all deaths.
The recent research noted the proportion of men dying from illicit drug used has steadily increased over the past four years. In 2012, more than 71 per cent of those who died were male and this year, to date, that statistic has risen to almost 81 per cent.
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.