A staggering number of people in B.C. continue to die from drug overdoses. Nearly a year-and-a-half after the province declared a public health emergency, fatal overdoses are up nearly 88 per cent in the first six months of 2017 over the same period last year. The statistics were particularly bleak on Vancouver Island in June. April Lawrence reports.
There were 111 suspected drug overdose deaths in June, an average of 3.7 per day, according to the latest numbers from the B.C. Coroners Service.
The number of deaths is a 61 per cent increase from the number of deaths in June 2016 but is also the lowest monthly death toll so far for 2017. There has been a total of 780 suspected drug overdose deaths to date in the province, up from 414 from January to June 2016.
At 780 deaths, year-to-date overdose deaths in the province are up 88 per cent from the first six months of the last year.
All health authorities except Vancouver Island saw a decline in the number of deaths linked to overdoses in June compared to May. The number of suspected drug overdose deaths in the Vancouver Island Health Authority more than doubled from 11 in May to 23 in June.
“While 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 a tragic rate,” said chief coroner Lisa Lapointe in a statement.
“The drug supply is unsafe and anyone using illicit drugs is at high risk for overdose. I urge anyone using drugs, whether casually or regularly, not to use alone. Many deaths our coroners attend are in response to people who overdose with no one available to provide or summon critical and immediate medical assistance.”
The top three townships where illicit drug overdose deaths occurred are Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria. In Victoria, there have been 50 overdose deaths so far this year. In 2016, there was a total of 67 deaths.
In Nanaimo, there have been 24 overdose deaths from January to June. In 2016, there was a total of 28 deaths in Nanaimo.
Fraser Health and the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority had the highest number of illicit drug overdose deaths so far this year (258 and 249 deaths, respectively) making up 65 per cent of all drug overdose deaths.
In B.C., almost three-quarters of all illicit drug deaths involved people between the ages of 30 and 59 years. Four out of five people who died were men.
Nine in 10 overdose deaths occured inside, including 57.4 per cent in private residence. There were no deaths at any supervised consumption site or any of the drug overdose prevention sites.
The B.C. Coroners Service also released data on fentanyl-detected deaths from January to May. Fentanyl was detected in 78 per cent of illicit drug overdose deaths during that time period. There were 525 overdose deaths with fentanyl from January to May, a 109 per cent increase in the number of deaths during that same period in 2016. At 89 deaths, the Vancouver Island Health Authority had the third highest number of illicit drug overdose deaths with fentanyl from January to May.
There was a total of 123 overdose deaths with fentanyl in the Vancouver Island Health Authority throughout 2016.
In Victoria, there has been 38 fentanyl-detected deaths from January to May. In Nanaimo, there were 20 fentanyl detected deaths.