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B.C. drug deaths significantly down, but coroners service warns supply still toxic

Health Matters: Overdose deaths drop in October
There is some modest good news in the latest figures on drug overdose deaths in B.C. Today's edition of Health Matters is brought to you by Pharmasave. Today's Global News Hour at 6 Health Matters is brought to you by Pharmasave.

October saw another drop in the number of reported drug deaths, but the BC Coroners Service says it’s still worried about the supply of toxic drugs on the street.

According to the agency’s latest statistics, 69 people died of suspected drug overdoses in October, down 42 per cent from the same month in 2018 but up 21 per cent from the 57 people who died in September.

READ MORE: Vancouver mayor says Trudeau ‘open’ to safe drug supply proposal to curb overdose crisis

At least 823 people have died of fatal overdoses so far in 2019, compared to 1,290 in the first 10 months of 2018.

“While Coroners Service data shows that the number of fatalities related to illicit drug toxicity has decreased this year, we know from our partners in health care that the number of non-fatal drug toxicity events remains high,” chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said in a statement.

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B.C. drug death rate per 100,000 population.
B.C. drug death rate per 100,000 population. BC Coroners Service

“The drug supply in our province is unpredictable and perilous, and the long-term impacts of drug toxicity can be severe.

“The decrease in the number of fatalities is a promising trend, but we need to continue to keep our focus on this crisis of unsafe supply and continue to explore meaningful measures to reduce the risks for all British Columbians.”

READ MORE: Vancouver seeks safe drug supply, more federal funding to combat overdose crisis

The coroners service said in the first 10 months of 2019, B.C. paramedics responded to more than 20,000 overdose calls around the province, for an average of 64 calls a day.

The latest stats show that adult men continue to be the hardest hit by the overdose crisis.

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Seven out of 10 of the deaths were people aged 30-59, while 77 per cent of the fatalities were men.

Vancouver (210), Surrey (105), Victoria (48) and Abbotsford (39) have seen the most deaths so far in 2019.

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver’s top doctor calls for safe drug supply as fentanyl overdoses rise

The agency says fentanyl has been detected in 85 per cent of all suspected fatal drug overdoses in 2019. Carfentanil has been identified in 129 cases this year.

Vancouver Coastal Health recently applied for $6 million from Health Canada to allow for a safe supply and distribution of heroin to curb fatal overdoses, a majority of which have been tied to drugs laced with deadly fentanyl or carfentanil.

Major policymakers, including Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart and B.C.’s chief medical health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry have also called for access to a clean and safe supply of drugs for people with addictions.