116 illicit drug deaths in BC in January, says Coroners Service

Feb 18 2017, 2:08 am

An update by the BC Coroners Service on the opioid crisis in the province shows the continued deadly fallout of illicit drug use, with fentanyl largely to blame for the spike.

The report released on Friday indicates 116 people died from illicit drug use in January 2017, which is an average of more than seven deaths every two days but lower than the record month of December 2016 when 142 deaths were recorded. However, it was still the third-highest death toll ever for a single month.

Statistics for the month indicate nearly 60% of the deaths involved persons between the ages of 30 and 49 years old, and males account for 80% of total deaths during this period. There was one death during the month within the age group of between 10 and 18.

As well, data shows there was a spike in deaths on Saturdays and Sundays, with weekends combined accounting for 40% of total deaths.

More than a third of the deaths in January were located in Vancouver, the highest in BC, followed by Surrey with nine deaths and Kelowna with eight. In contrast, out the 922 deaths recorded in BC, there were 215 deaths in Vancouver and 110 in Surrey.

A vast majority of the month’s deaths, over 90%, occurred within indoor settings.

In a release, Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe recommended persons who are not currently drug-dependent to avoid experimentation or any casual use of illicit drugs as “the continuing high number of deaths shows that the risks remain extreme.” However, many of the deaths to date are individuals who are drug-dependent, including a large number who have not succeeded in a variety of treatment programs.

“For these people, I think we would be wise to seriously consider the carefully considered suggestion made by provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall – the possibility of providing clean, medical-grade heroin to that small subset of users for whom nothing else has worked,” said Lapointe in a statement.

She recommends that anyone who must use illicit drugs – opiates, amphetamines or cocaine – should do so only where medical help is available, such as a supervised drug injection site, or at the very least be in the presence of a sober person with access to naloxone.

BC deaths from illicit drug use have gradually increased since 2011 before exploding in growth from 2015 onwards:

Illicit drug deaths in BC by municipality. (Image by: BC Coroners Service)

Monthly illicit drug deaths in BC in 2015 and 2016. (Image by: BC Coroners Service)

Earlier today, the federal government announced a funding commitment of $10 million over the next five years to implement short-term emergency initiatives to fight the opioid crisis in BC.

This multi-million dollar fund accounts for just a fraction of the new $65-million nationwide program, despite BC being the epicentre of Canada’s drug crisis.

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