News / Vancouver

March was the deadliest month yet for B.C. overdose crisis

Overdoses killed nearly four people every day in British Columbia last month.

A mural in a Downtown Eastside alley illustrates the deadly opioid overdose crisis.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

A mural in a Downtown Eastside alley illustrates the deadly opioid overdose crisis.

British Columbians are continuing to die of drug overdoses at an alarming rate, according to the latest numbers released by the BC Coroners Service: more people died in March than in any month recorded so far.

In March, 120 people overdosed and died, compared to 79 deaths in March 2016 and 30 deaths in March 2015.

Following a spike in November and December of last year, the numbers continue to rise in 2017: 119 people died in January while 108 lost their lives in February.

People are dying in their homes and in some cases in their vehicles. But there have still not been any deaths recorded at overdose preventions sites, locations where volunteers or staff are on hand to provide first aid in case someone overdoses.

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A volunteer group in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside set up the first overdose prevention site in September, which initially operated without official permission. Health authorities and the provincial government began opening more overdose prevention sites throughout the province starting in December 2016.

The prevalence of the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl and a stronger variation, carfentanil, are certainly behind the increase in deaths, said Lisa Lapointe, B.C.’s chief coroner. The number of illicit deaths where fentanyl was not detected has remained relatively stable since 2011.

“The introduction of illicit fentanyl to the illegal drug market has had devastating results, with literally scores of our community members dying in their homes across the province,” Lapointe said in a statement.

“It has been just over a year since the provincial health officer’s declaration of a provincial health emergency and, while harm reduction measures now in place are reversing thousands of overdoses, long-term measures to stem this tide must include meaningful education beginning at an early age and evidence-based treatment.”

The March data shows that the Okanagan now has the second highest overdose death rate, at 39.9 out of 100,000 people. Vancouver has the highest overdose death rate, at 58 out of 100,000.

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