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B.C.’s illicit drug overdose numbers continue to rise; almost four deaths each day

B.C.’s opioid crisis records another sharp spike over last year
Overdose deaths in B.C. reached 780 in June, an increase of 88 per cent from the year before. Jennifer Palma looks at what’s behind the numbers and what the province is doing to address the crisis.

Despite a public health emergency 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 almost four each day, according to the latest statistics released by the BC Coroners Service.

Recent numbers show there were 111 suspected drug overdose deaths in June, which is an average of 3.7 per cent each day and a 61 per cent increase from June 2016. This brings the number of deaths to date in B.C. for 2017 to 780 — which is up from the 414 at the same time last year. The stats also show that almost three-quarters of all illicit drug deaths were people between the ages of 30 and 59 years and four out of five who died, were male.

READ MORE: B.C. overdose deaths — Drug supply is unsafe, don’t take the risk of dabbling: Coroner

These numbers continue to follow a trend seen in a previous report released by the BC Coroners in May that showed there were 488 accidental drug overdose deaths in the province from January through April 2017.

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While Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said “it’s a relief to see the lowest number of deaths for any month to date in 2017, we are still seeing a significant increase in illicit drug overdose deaths compared even with this time last year and are continuing to lose loved and valued members of our communities at this tragic rate.”

Lapointe also highlighted that nine in 10 drug overdose deaths happened inside with more than half (57.4 per cent) being in a private residence.

READ MORE: 914 overdose deaths in B.C. in 2016: 90% occurred inside

The coroner says fentanyl still remains a major contributor to the high number of deaths. This year, from January to May, there were 525 (out of 669) cases where fentanyl was found, which translates to 78 per cent of all illicit drug deaths. That number is more than double the number of fentanyl-detected deaths for the same timeframe last year.

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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.

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.