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BC illicit drug deaths in 2017 surpass last year's total

Last Updated Oct 12, 2017 at 2:10 pm PDT

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The number of drug-related deaths in BC this year has already passed the total for all of 2016: Coroners Service

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The number of drug-related deaths in BC this year has already passed the total for all of 2016, according to the province’s Coroners Service.

“In the first eight months of 2017, we’ve already surpassed the 2016 total of suspected illicit drug overdose deaths. So, we’ve seen over a thousand, in just eight months in 2017,” Andy Watson with the BC Coroners Service said.

1,013 people died from a suspected illicit drug overdose between January to August, up from 935 for all of last year.

Preliminary data shows there were 113 suspected drug overdose deaths in August alone, more than three-and-a-half deaths a day and a 79 per cent increase over the month last year, according to the province.

Fentanyl was detected in over 80 per cent of suspected illicit drug deaths, an increase of more than 150 per cent over the same period last year. In most cases, fentanyl was mixed with other drugs – most often cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamines.

Watson says the risk to drug users is high.

“The drug supply is contaminated and we’re seeing lots of fentanyl in different drugs that we are testing from the scene,” he said. “So, if you need to use substances, don’t use alone. Use in the company of somebody who can administer help [and] call 911, or better yet, use at one of the supervised consumption sites or overdose prevention sites.”

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Last month the provincial government earmarked an additional $322 million over three years to combat the opioid epidemic and enforce current drug laws.

“It’s a combination of health and treatments, services required to help individuals, but it’s also the enforcement side of going after those who are responsible, those who are dealing and trafficking,” Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said, adding Thursday’s numbers are “concerning and disturbing.”

His ministry will have more drug-related announcements in the spring, Farnworth said, but did not provide further details of what the public can expect in several months’ time.

Watson says there’s a big misconception the fentanyl crisis is an isolated problem that only affects people on the Downtown Eastside.

“We know that’s not correct. The data that we have shows that 90 per cent of these cases of suspected illicit drug deaths are happening indoors – many of those are happening in private residences.”

“Our big population is people aged 30 to 40… 80 per cent of those dying are men. No deaths have occurred at any supervised consumption sites or any of the drug overdose prevention sites,” he adds.