The new numbers released by the B.C. Ministry of Health and BC Coroners Service once again highlight the urgency of the growing overdose epidemic.
The number of illicit drug deaths in B.C. continues to increase each month. December saw 142 overdose deaths – the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a single month in the province. That averages nine deaths every two days and beats the record set in November with 128 deaths.
The December deaths bring the provisional number for the whole of 2016 to a total of 914, an increase of almost 80 per cent over the number of deaths in the previous year (510).
Together, the months of November and December account for 30 per cent of all deaths in 2016.
It’s not yet clear how many of these deaths were caused by fentanyl as the Coroners Service won’t have the data to back up those numbers until March when toxicology tests are completed.
In a surprising twist, the numbers show 89.9 per cent of illicit drug overdoses in 2016 occurred inside (61.3 per cent in private residences, 28.7 per cent in other inside locations), 9.2 per cent occurred outside in vehicles, sidewalks, streets, parks, wooded areas and campgrounds., and 0.9 per cent had an unknown location.
The “inside” locations include homes, driveways garages, trailer homes, hotels, motels, rooming houses, shelters, occupational sites, public buildings and businesses.
WATCH: Keith Baldrey has a closer look at how quickly the problem is escalating.
Meanwhile, no deaths occurred at any supervised-consumption sites or at any of the drug overdose-prevention sites which began operating in the last months of the year in response to the increasing number of overdoses.
More than half of all illicit drug deaths in 2016 involved people between the ages of 30 and 49. Four out of five who died were male.
Saturdays and Sundays were the days of the week when most of the fatal illicit drug overdoses occurred last year.
Most overdoses took place in Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria.
Vancouver saw a 60 per cent increase in overdose deaths from 2015, Surrey – 42 per cent increase and Victoria – 267 per cent increase.
Kelowna saw a 153 per cent increase and Kamloops saw a whopping 471 per cent increase.
Maple Ridge was the only municipality in the report to see a drop (of six per cent) from 2015.
“We recognize that those who are suffering from drug dependency are not going to be able to abstain immediately from drug use,” said chief coroner Lisa Lapointe. “Given the increasing risk of contaminated drugs and the growing number of fatalities, though, we urge them to use illicit drugs only in the presence of medical expertise or, at the very least, a sober person with access to, and training in, the use of naloxone.”
Lapointe says for those who are not drug dependent, they strongly advise avoiding experimentation and the casual use of illicit drugs.
“The risks are now unmanageable,” Lapointe said.
The Coroner adds the fatalities are not occurring only among those who use opioid drugs like heroin. Cocaine and methamphetamines are also being found in a high percentage of fentanyl detected deaths in 2016.
The breakdown of overdose deaths in 2015 and 2016
An illicit drug overdose may involve street drugs, unprescribed medications or other unknown drugs. However, the Coroners Service says the number of illicit drug overdose deaths that does not involve fentanyl has remained relatively stable since 2011.
Anyone using any illicit drugs or accompanying anyone who is using is reminded to never use alone; have medical expertise and/or naloxone and a sober person trained in its use readily available when using; use an overdose-prevention site or supervised-consumption site wherever possible; know the signs of an overdose and call 911 immediately.
For the ongoing coverage of the fentanyl crisis, go here.
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