Drug deaths decline in northern B.C.

  • Jun. 14, 2017 1:30 a.m.

While the number of illicit drug deaths continues to soar in B.C., Northern Health is the only health authority reporting a reduction in the number of deaths so far in 2017.

According to the latest statistics from the B.C. Coroners Service, Northern Health has reported 14 overdose deaths so far in 2017. A total of 50 overdose deaths were reported in 2016, with half of those deaths reported in the first six months of the year.

Across the province, however, April 2017 showed the second-highest recorded numbers of illicit drug deaths in a single month. Provisional data show that 136 people died as a result of illicit drug use during April, an average of 4.5 each day, and almost double the April 2016 total of 69.

“It is of great concern that despite the harm-reduction measures now in place and the public-safety messages issued, many people are still using illicit drugs in private residences where help is not readily available,” said chief coroner Lisa Lapointe.

The April deaths bring the provisional numbers for the year-to-date to 488, and they show that more than half of all illicit drug deaths involved persons between the ages of 30 and 49 years. Four out of five who died were male.

Of note, nine in 10 illicit drug overdose deaths occurred indoors, including more than half in private residences. No deaths occurred at any supervised consumption site or at any of the drug overdose prevention sites.

So far in 2017, Vancouver Coastal Health Authority has the highest number (171) of illicit drug-overdose deaths, making up 35 per cent of all illicit drug-overdose deaths, followed by Fraser Health Authority (145 deaths, 29.7 per cent of all illicit drug-overdose deaths).

Lapointe urged those using illicit drugs to use only a small amount of the drug initially and only in the presence of someone willing and able to administer naloxone and call 911 if required.

“The risks associated with all illicit drugs in the province are extreme, and access to emergency medical assistance is essential to prevent fatal consequences,” she said.

The B.C. Coroners Service did not release a new report on the proportion of deaths in which fentanyl was detected, as it is not yet available. It is anticipated that data will be available sometime in June.

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