The B.C. Coroners Service says 128 people died from illicit drug use in November, bringing the total for the year to 755 people.
In November, this averaged to four people a day.
This was the highest number of illicit drug deaths in B.C. for a single month in recent memory, with the previous high being 82 in January 2016.
The majority of people are dying due to fentanyl use. From Jan. 1 through Oct. 31, the coroners service says fentanyl was detected in 374 cases, which is about 60 per cent of all illicit drug deaths. That is almost triple the number of fentanyl-detected deaths for the same period last year.
Last week, nine people died of drug overdoses in Vancouver in one night, many of them in the vicinity of the Downtown Eastside.
First responders are expecting this week to be busier than the new normal– recent months have shown an increase in the number of overdoses, with November peaking so far this year at 735 calls.
There have been over 6,000 overdoses this year to date and B.C. has been under a public health emergency since April.
Public Safety Minister Mike Morris said the province is committed to addressing the problem with the goal of opening 500 substance-use beds by early 2017.
With the number of deaths remaining so high, the B.C Coroners Service says harm-reduction measures need to be followed by anyone using any illicit drugs or accompanying anyone who is using. These include never using alone, having naloxone and medical help readily available when using, using an overdose-prevention site or supervised-consumption site wherever possible, and knowing the signs of an overdose and calling 911 immediately.
In a joint statement from Morris and Minister of Health Terry Lake, they said the government must redouble its efforts to stop the overdose fatalities.
“Overdose prevention sites will continue to be set up in high-risk communities across the province. As well, we’ll continue to improve access to treatments, expand the Take Home Naloxone Program, establish additional supervised consumption services and intercept the flow of these fatal drugs onto our streets in B.C.
“We also acknowledge that in addition to these more immediate harm-reduction and public-safety measures, we need to continue to increase access to a range of additional treatment beds and supports. We are well on track with opening our promised 500 new beds, and expect to have opened 400 new beds by the end of January, with the remainder coming online by March 31. But it’s clear additional steps are needed, which is why we are also looking at adding some surge capacity in treatment beds and other treatment resources as soon as possible. Because beds alone are not going to solve this – and for many people beds may not be medically the most appropriate path for someone seeking help to recover from opioid addiction – we continue broader work in this area through the B.C. Centre on Substance Use to improve the effectiveness of the whole treatment system in B.C.”
-With files from Jill Slattery and Yuliya Talmazan