City of Vancouver’s 2017 drug overdose numbers already surpass 2016 total; estimate 400 deaths by year end

FILE PHOTO: First responders tend to an overdose victim in Vancouver's Downtown East Side. Sarah Blyth / Twitter

In the wake of three fatal overdoses last week, Vancouver has now surpassed the total number of illicit-drug deaths for all of 2016.

New statistics show the City has so far recorded 232 suspected overdose deaths for 2017; which is one more than the overall total for 2016. At this rate, the City is anticipating more than 400 deaths by the end of the year.

“The rising number of overdose deaths this year is horrendous and absolutely heartbreaking,” Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said in a release.

“We will continue to work with the new provincial government and pour City resources into tackling this crisis. We can’t be complacent and let the number of deaths from this public health crisis be the new normal.”

The City says first responders are continuing to handle an “extreme volume” of overdose response calls. Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services (VFRS) responded to 102 calls for the week of August 7, a slight decrease from the 114 reported the week prior.

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On average, the City’s first responders have received 135 calls a week this year.

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The City said it is calling on the federal and provincial governments to make this a top priority. A few of the actions recommended to both levels of government include:

  • creating a national regulatory framework for all illicit substances and exploring decriminalization;
  • expanding addictions treatment including injectable options;
  • increasing the number of overdose prevention sites to all communities in need;
  • providing necessary services in supportive housing for people at risk for overdose;
  • implementing drug checking technology and programs;
  • and amending legislation for MSP to include coverage for evidence based, psycho-social addiction treatments.

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.

READ MORE: Surrey safe-injection sites approved to supervise snorting drugs or taking them orally

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.

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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.

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.

READ MORE: City of Vancouver reports 5 overdose deaths in one week, warns of carfentanil presence

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.

– With files from The Canadian Press

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