May 10, 2018 6:54 pm

March represents second-deadliest month for illicit-drug overdose deaths in B.C. history

Fentanyl pills are shown in an undated police photo. In March, 161 people died from suspected illicit drug overdoses in B.C.

THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE/HO - Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams

British Columbia continues to struggle to get a handle of the ongoing drug overdose crisis. The BC Coroners Service released the latest data on Thursday. In March, 161 people died from suspected illicit drug overdoses in the province, marking the second deadliest month in provincial history.

The deaths represent a 24 per cent increase over March 2017, when 130 people died from illicit drug overdoses. The March 2018 total almost equals the 162 illicit drug overdose deaths in December 2016.

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READ MORE: B.C. marks 2017 as deadliest O.D. death year in provincial history

“It’s heartbreaking. Last month, the numbers went down; this month, the numbers went up,” said Judy Darcy. “There is a very toxic drug supply on the streets. Every loss is a tragic one. That is why every day, we are redoubling our efforts that people should not be using drugs alone, to make sure they have access to more overdose prevention sites.”

Initial data shows that through the first three months of 2018, fentanyl was detected in post-mortem testing in 83 per cent of deaths. Seven in every 10 of those who died were aged 19 to 49 years.

WATCH HERE: Families who lost loved ones to fentanyl crisis say more needs to be done

The provincial government has invested tens of millions of dollars in dealing with the ongoing crisis. That has included additional supports for overdose prevention sites. Darcy says that since they have opened, 800,000 people have visited the sites, saving 4,500 lives from possible fatal overdoses.

“One of the stories that isn’t being told is the one of the thousands of lives that are being saved every single day. When you speak to first responders, they are saving many, many more lives,” said Darcy. “They are getting better at it every day.”

The province has also seen an 80 per cent increase of people prescribing opioid substitute therapy.

READ MORE: Panel releases recommendations as B.C. sees almost 4 deaths a day this February

The City of Vancouver has seen 102 suspected illicit drug overdose deaths so far in 2018, an average of 34 per month, which is up from the 2017 average of 30.5 per month.

“This isn’t just a British Columbia problem. It is spreading across Canada and it is starting to spread across Europe,” said Darcy.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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