The number of illicit drug deaths in B.C. has reached its highest number yet.
According to the BC Coroner, the number of deaths in December were the highest ever recorded in a single month in the province.
Provisional data shows that a total of 142 persons died as a result of illicit drug use during the month of December, an average of nine people every two days. The December deaths bring the provisional numbers for the full year of 2016 to a total of 914, an increase of almost 80 per cent over the number of deaths in 2015.
In Kelowna there were 48 overdose deaths in 2016, the fourth highest of any city in B.C. after Vancouver (215), Surrey (108) and Victoria (66).
In Vernon there were 13 overdose deaths, while across the Okanagan there were 76 overdose deaths last year and a total of 156 in the Interior Health Authority area in 2016.
The BC Coroners Service did not release a new report on the proportion of deaths in which fentanyl was detected, as it does not yet have available the year-end fentanyl detected data for 2016. It is anticipated that data will be available sometime in March.
The year-end data shows that more than half of all illicit drug deaths involved persons between the ages of 30 and 49. Four out of five who died were male.
“We recognize that those who are suffering from drug dependency are not going to be able to abstain immediately from drug use,” said chief coroner Lisa Lapointe.
“Given the increasing risk of contaminated drugs and the growing number of fatalities, though, we urge them to use illicit drugs only in the presence of medical expertise or, at the very least, a sober person with access to, and training in, the use of naloxone.”
She said for those who are not drug dependent, the coroner’s service strongly advises against the experimentation and/or casual use of illicit drugs.
“The risks are now unmanageable,” added Lapointe.
In fact, B.C.’s Health Minister Terry Lake is reiterating his call for a federal state of emergency.
The coroner also stressed that the fatalities are not occurring only among those who regularly use opioid drugs, such as heroin. Cocaine and methamphetamines were also found in a high percentage of fentanyl detected deaths in 2016.
Lapointe said that harm reduction measures need to be followed by anyone using any illicit drugs or accompanying anyone who is using.
- Never use alone
- Have medical expertise and/or naloxone and a sober person trained in its use readily available when using
- Using an overdose-prevention site or supervised-consumption site wherever possible
- Knowing the signs of an overdose and calling 911 immediately.
- Note: No deaths have occurred at the two supervised-consumption sites in B.C. (InSite and the Dr. Peter Centre) or at any of the drug overdose-prevention sites which began operation in the last months of 2016 response to the increasing number of overdoses.
The BC Coroners Service continues to work with the B.C. government’s Joint Task Force on Overdose Response and with health, community and law enforcement agencies to try to reduce this death toll.
The updated report on illicit drug deaths can be found here.
Illicit overdose deaths, by the numbers: