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Drug overdose deaths spike in March

Last Updated May 7, 2020 at 11:57 am PDT

FILE PHOTO: Fentanyl pills are shown in an undated police handout photo. Politicians and public health officials say increasing access to overdose-fighting medication is key to tackling the fentanyl-fuelled opioid crisis that is moving across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT)

Drug overdose deaths surpassed 100 in March for the first time in a year

Exceeding 100 deaths in a month has not occurred since March 2019, says coroners service

Deaths in March represent a 61 per cent increase in the number from month prior

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — More than 100 people died of overdoses in B.C. in March, the largest monthly death toll in a year and a 60 per cent spike from last month, according to figures released Thursday by the BC Coroners Service.

In March, there were 113 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths, says a release from the coroner.

“Exceeding 100 deaths in a month has not occurred since March 2019.”

This March is also when many health and safety regulations were imposed in B.C. to suppress transmission of COVID-19.

READ ALSO: Largest single-day increase in new COVID-19 cases since March as B.C. records three more deaths

The 113 overdoses in March were a three per cent decrease from the number in March 2019, when there were 117.

However, the deaths from this past March represent a 61 per cent increase in the number from a month prior.

Compared to averages in January and February, the increase in March occurred in every health authority, the coroners service says.

However, the Fraser Health region saw a 91 per cent increase in that time, while the Island Health experienced an 80 per cent rise.

To date, men accounted for 76 per cent of overdose deaths in 2020, the same rate as the year before, but slightly lower than two years ago.

In 2020, 73 per cent of those who have died were 19 to 49 years old. That rate was 69 per cent the year before.

By health authority, Northern Health has the highest rate of illicit drug toxicity deaths, followed by Interior Health in 2020.

From 2018 to this past March, the rates of illicit drug toxicity deaths are highest in Hope, Fort Nelson, North Thompson, Lillooet and Arrow Lakes, says the coroners service.

No deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.

Overdose deaths spiked in Vancouver during the last week of March, according to the city.

Officers attended eight “overdose-suspected” deaths from March 23 to 29, the most in a single week since August 2019.

In late March, frontline workers and advocates warned there were only a few days of illegal fentanyl and opioid supplies left on B.C.’s streets due to border closures during the pandemic.

The B.C. government declared a public health emergency in 2016, when overdose deaths began to spike.

Since then, more than 5,000 people have died of illicit overdoses.