Fentanyl contributed to hundreds of deaths in Canada so far this year
Fentanyl has contributed to the deaths of several Canadians every day in 2017, according to statistics from various provincial agencies.
The drug is disproportionately harming people in Western Canada, according to statistics, but because provinces vary in how they record deaths, it’s difficult to come up with a full national picture.
But even without knowing all the details of fentanyl’s impact in every province, it’s safe to say that it plays a role in the deaths of more than four people on average every day in B.C. and Alberta alone.
READ MORE: Global News’ coverage of the fentanyl crisis
Here’s what we know:
Fentanyl was associated with 368 overdose deaths in British Columbia between January and April 2017, according to a report from the BC Coroners Service. That is a 115 per cent increase over the same period in 2016.
In the majority of these deaths, fentanyl was detected along with other drugs. Moreover, this doesn’t include cases where the fentanyl was prescribed or the death was due to intentional self-harm. Men accounted for 82 per cent of deaths.
Fentanyl was detected in approximately 72 per cent of apparent drug overdose deaths in B.C. so far this year. This is a higher percentage than ever before. In 2014, it was only found in 25 per cent of overdose deaths.
Fentanyl was implicated in 176 overdose deaths in Alberta between January 1 and May 13, 2017. The more potent related drug, carfentanyl, was detected in 34 of those deaths, according to data from Alberta Health.
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This year is already shaping up to be worse than last year in the province. Between January and March 2016, there were 70 fentanyl-related deaths. In that same period in 2017, there were 120.
There has only been one confirmed fentanyl-related death in Saskatchewan so far this year, according to a report released by the provincial coroner. However, unlike coroners in B.C. and some other provinces, Saskatchewan only seems to release data when the death has been fully investigated, which can take years.
The coroner’s data report mentions that data from 2015, 2016 and 2017 are still subject to change. In 2015, there were 22 fentanyl-related deaths. In 2016, there were seven confirmed so far.
Other opioid drugs, like hydromorphone and methadone, seem to have contributed to more deaths in this province than fentanyl.
Manitoba, like some other provinces, only releases finalized data on causes of death. So, it only has partial figures from 2016 available so far, according to the office of the medical examiner. Among cases that the office has closed, fentanyl was identified 10 times as being the primary cause of death. It was identified as a “contributing factor” – meaning that it appeared in a toxicity screening – in an additional seven cases, for a total of 17 fentanyl-related deaths.
The office is still reviewing 2016 deaths, so these numbers will likely change.
Ontario only currently has full data available for 2015. The province has not yet published full 2016 totals or anything from 2017, meaning it’s hard to get a current picture of overdose deaths in the province.
But in 2015, fentanyl was implicated in 220 deaths in the province or about 30 per cent of all opioid-related deaths. In the first six months of 2016, there were 76 confirmed deaths related to opioids. There is no data available on the government’s website about which drugs specifically were involved in these 2016 deaths, and that number can be expected to change as the coroner investigates and confirms more cases.
The most recent statistics from Quebec are from 2015, when the province recorded 30 deaths related to accidental overdoses of fentanyl, alone or combined with other drugs.
The provincial coroner’s office notes that it takes on average of 10.5 months for an investigation to be completed, so these numbers may still change.
Thirty fentanyl-related deaths in 2015 was a significant jump: there were only 11 the year before.
Between January and March 2017, only one death was associated with fentanyl in New Brunswick, out of two opioid-related deaths. There were three fentanyl-related deaths in 2016.
Prince Edward Island
PEI had one fentanyl-related death in both 2014 and 2015, and none in 2016, though there are still a handful of cases pending investigation, according to a government spokesperson.
There were three confirmed opioid-related deaths and two cases pending in 2016. There is no readily-available data from 2017.
As of June 30, 2017, there was one death caused by fentanyl in the province this year, according to Nova Scotia’s chief medical examiner’s office. There were 24 confirmed and five probable opioid deaths.
Provincial documents recently obtained by Global News through an access to information request showed that there were eight fentanyl-related deaths in 2016.
Newfoundland and Labrador
The province did not return an inquiry by deadline, but according to a recent report by the Canadian Press, there were 20 drug-related accidental deaths in 2015. Eighteen of those were related to opioids and five were related to fentanyl.
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