The B.C. Coroners Service says more than 1,400 people died of an illicit drug overdose in the province in 2017,Â making itÂ “the most tragic year ever,” according to the chief coroner.
LisaÂ LapointeÂ said the preliminary total for the year is at 1,422 â€” an increase of 43 per cent from 2016 â€”Â but that figure will grow as test results continue to come in.
Approximately 81 per cent of suspected deaths last yearÂ involved the opioid fentanyl. LapointeÂ said it was often combined with other illicit drugs â€”Â most often heroin, cocaineÂ or methamphetamines.
“If not for fentanyl, we wouldn’tÂ be seeing the deaths we’re seeing,” she said Wednesday.
Nearly 90 per cent of people who died were alone inside a home when they suffered an overdose. Four out of five were men, and more than half of all victims were between the ages of 30 and 49.
Vancouver saw the highest number of deadly overdoses last year, followed by Surrey and Victoria.
The coroners serviceÂ said nobody died at any supervised consumption site or at any of the drug overdose prevention sites.
The number of deaths in 2017Â had surpassedÂ the 2016 record of 923Â byÂ October.
The provincial health crisis, first declared in 2016, has continued into the new year: nine deaths were reported over five days in the B.C. Interior last week.
Provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall, speaking on his last day before retirement,Â said the numbers show the province is still in the middleÂ of an “epidemic ofÂ poisoningÂ deaths.”â€‹
Indigenous people in B.C. were also disproportionately affected by the crisis in 2017 â€” Dr. PatriciaÂ Daly said they accounted for 10 per cent of all illicit overdose deaths in B.C.Â last year, even though they only represent 3.4 per cent of the provincial population.
However, DalyÂ said there is a glimmer of hope in the numbers.
She said statistics show a “significant decrease” in deaths over the last four months of 2017:Â an average of 96Â deaths per month from September to December,Â compared with the first eight months of the year when there were more than 129Â deaths per month.
Daly said she’s “cautiously optimistic” about the 25 per cent drop.
“Things are moving in a better direction … but I’d say it’s too early to say it’s an ongoing downward trend,” she said.
SarahÂ Blyth is withÂ the Overdose Prevention Society in Vancouver andÂ has helpedÂ stopÂ many overdoseÂ deathsÂ in the city’s Downtown EastsideÂ by setting up unsanctioned, pop-up supervised injection sites.
She says the crisis is affecting the province’s “most vulnerable” people.
“It’s not surprising that we’re still in the middle of a crisis and that people are still dying,”Â said Blyth. “More action has to be taken â€”Â immediate action â€”Â with expanding safe access drug programs so that people are not taking a lethal dose of something that’s going to kill them.”
She also saidÂ the stigma associated with drugÂ addictionÂ â€” something Kendall called a “chronic, relapsing health condition” â€” can be deadly.
“[Users]Â don’t want anyone to know [they’re using] … They use home alone in shame and that’s when they die.”
Article source: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/overdose-deaths-bc-2017-1.4511918?cmp=rss