B.C.’s drug overdose death toll climbs to 488

Fraser region accounts for most deaths so far this year, province deregulates naloxone

Fentanyl pills seized by police.

The drug overdose crisis has claimed 488 lives in B.C. in the first eight months of the year up until the end of August, according to new statistics released by the B.C. Coroners Service.

The number of deaths from opioid overdoses was down slightly from 55 in July to 49 in August, and is well off the peak of 81 in January.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe noted for the first time this year, the deaths in August were down from the same month in 2015.

“Without the work that has been done to increase the availability of this antidote to opioid overdoses, I fear we would have seen many more deaths,” Lapointe said. “But no one should ever assume that the presence of naloxone at a scene will automatically mean a good outcome.”

The Fraser Health region accounted for 172 illicit drug overdose deaths from January through August, or 35 per cent of the provincial total.

There were 113 drug deaths in Vancouver Coastal, 93 on Vancouver Island, 80 in the Interior and 30 in the Northern health region.

The largest numbers of deaths by city have been in Vancouver (96 so far in 2016), Surrey (62), Victoria (39), Kelowna (27), Abbotsford and Kamloops (at 23 each), Maple Ridge and Nanaimo (20 each), and Langley (19).

The 488 deaths in total in B.C. so far is up 62 per cent from the same period of 2015.

The biggest increase in the rate of deaths occurred on Vancouver Island, where there was a 135 per cent increase. Vancouver Island also had the highest rate of deaths as a proportion of the population – 18.1 deaths per 100,000 people so far this year.

The powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl was detected in more than 60 per cent of deaths this year, twice the rate of 2015.

There have been an average of 37 fentanyl-linked overdose deaths per month this year.

The most common drug overdose combination has been cocaine mixed with fentanyl, officials said.

A multi-prong response strategy has been underway since the province declared a public health emergency in April and created a dedicated task force in July.

In the latest move, the health ministry approved a request to deregulate and unschedule naloxone, allowing the life-saving overdose treatment to be sold at more locations.

Work continues to try to block fentanyl production and distribution, increase harm-reduction options and increase the number of addiction recovery beds.

More than 2,100 no-charge take-home naloxone kits have been used to reverse overdoses out of more than 13,700 distributed.

Posters and now videos are being released to make recreational drug users more aware of the risks they face.

A new video features Leslie McBain, founder of support group Moms Stop the Harm, who lost her son Jordan to an overdose.

“It can happen to anyone’s child,” said McBain. “Education and awareness are at present the best tools we have for reducing drug harms including death.”

Vancouver Coastal Health is applying to Health Canada to add more safe consumption sites in the region.

Health officials in B.C. have complained the federal process for approving new harm reduction sites has been too onerous and slow since new legislation restricting them was passed by the former Conservative government in 2015.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 27 to Oct. 3

World Farm Animals Day, Drink Beer Day and Virus Appreciation Day are all coming up this week

Conservation Officers seek public assistance

A mule deer buck was poached within Elkford town limits

Two new COVID-19 cases reported in Interior Health

The total number of Interior Health cases since the beginning of the pandemic is now at 522

Editorial – Voters think little of political opportunism

John Horgan is playing a very cynical game with his own government’s health message

Annual Elk Valley Pride Festival paints the town rainbow

Festivities began with a spirited Pride Bike Parade and flag raising ceremony

QUIZ: Do you know what’s on TV?

Fall is normally the time when new television shows are released

End of CERB means uncertainty for some, new system for others

As of a week ago, the CERB had paid out $79.3 billion to 8.8 million people

Horgan, Wilkinson trade barbs over MSP premiums, health care at campaign stops

Horgan called a snap election for Oct. 24 earlier this week

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

PHOTOS: 2nd calf in a month confirmed among Southern Resident killer whale pod

Center for Whale Research said they will eagerly await to observe the calf to evaluate its health

2 British Columbians arrested, 3 at large in massive Alberta drug bust

Eight people are facing 33 charges in what police have dubbed Project Incumbent

97 distressed horses, cats and dogs seized from farm in Princeton

RCMP assisted as BC SPCA executed search warrant

$250K reward offered as investigation continues into Sea to Sky Gondola vandalism

Police also asking for specific footage of Sea to Sky highway around time of incident

Most Read