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2017 deadliest year for overdoses in BC

Last Updated Jan 31, 2018 at 5:07 pm PST

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Summary

Statistics for the first 10 months of last year already show 2017 was BC's deadliest year ever for drug overdoses

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Drug overdose deaths reached record heights last year in BC, with more than 1,400 suspected overdose deaths, according to the BC Coroners Service.

The 1,422 deaths in 2017, represent a 43 per cent increase from 2016, and health experts expect the number to rise as more autopsy results are reviewed.

“The 2017 data reflects the most tragic year ever,” Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said, adding fentanyl was detected in 81 per cent of all overdose deaths, a jump from 67 per cent the year before. “But for fentanyl we would not be seeing the deaths we’re seeing.”

There was a significant decrease in the number of deaths within the last four months of last year compared to the first eight months of the year, but do not represent a downward trend, according to B.C. Overdose Emergency Response Centre executive director Dr. Patricia Daly.

“The last four months of the year we saw about 100 deaths. It’s not a downward trend. It came down four months ago and it stayed at about 100 deaths, so we still need to do more to continue to see that come down.” she said. “And we’re also still seeing some conceringing things such as a rise in deaths associated with the date of distribution of social assistance cheques.”

Men made up 80 per cent of the deaths, while nearly all occured indoors and in private homes.

The deaths were all from illicit drugs and not the result of any prescribed medications. There were no deaths at supervised consumption sites and overdose prevention sites.

 

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“By continuing to provide timely, accurate data to the public, and policy- and decision-makers throughout the province, we’re able to support evidence-based measures to keep British Columbians safer when it comes to substance use,” Lapointe said. “There is no question that this is a public-health crisis that is impacting people from all walks of life, and we need to continue to work together to help reduce stigma and increase awareness and support for those at risk.”

Lapointe praised several accomplishments over the last year including a growing understanding of the challenges of addiction care.

“If we truly want to save lives, we’re all going to have to be willing to let go of old stereotypes and old, and sadly ineffective, solutions,” she said, adding more needs to be done to address stigmatization of drug users.

Last year, the province created the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and committed $322 million over three years to fight the opioid crisis.

BC experts, including outgoing provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall renewed their call for the federal government to decriminalize drug use, and for the rest of Canadians to de-stigmatize the growing health issue.