News / Vancouver

B.C. has recorded more than 200 fatal overdoses so far this year

February overdose death numbers show a slight decrease from January, but are still staggeringly high

A mural in an alley in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside depicts the ravages of a tainted drug epidemic

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

A mural in an alley in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside depicts the ravages of a tainted drug epidemic

Deaths linked to drug overdoses fell slightly in January and February compared to a spike in November and December — but they’re still staggeringly high compared to previous years.

Figures released by the B.C. Coroners Service show that 102 British Columbians died from overdoses in February, compared to 117 in January. That means the province has recorded the highest ever number of deaths — 219 — in January and February. The February number is nearly double the number of deaths recorded in February 2016.

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“People are dying in far higher numbers than we’ve ever seen,” said Lisa Lapointe, B.C.’s chief coroner,“and a slight decrease in fatalities from the previous month should not be seen as any indication that the risk has decreased.” 

The illicit drug supply is widely contaminated with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is more likely to lead to overdose. But in November 2016 an even more potent form of the opioid, carfentanil, was found to be present in Vancouver street drugs. 

In mid-2016, health officials thought they had started to get the overdose crisis under control as death rates briefly fell.

But by the fall of 2016, deaths had begun to climb once again: 56 in September, 67 in October, then a jump to 128 deaths in November and another spike to 142 in December.

In response to the rising numbers, health officials opened several overdose prevention sites across B.C. where people can use drugs in the presence of trained staff and volunteers who can administer naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug, and call first responders if someone overdoses.

Lapointe said none of the overdose deaths have occurred at any of those sites; 89 per cent of the deaths happened when people were using drugs inside their home.

“This is evidence that these sites are saving lives. People need to be encouraged to visit these sites as the majority of deaths are occurring when people use illicit substances without medical attention or assistance nearby.”

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