B.C.’s drug overdose death toll climbs to 488

Fraser region accounts for most deaths so far this year, province deregulates naloxone

Fentanyl pills seized by police.

The drug overdose crisis has claimed 488 lives in B.C. in the first eight months of the year up until the end of August, according to new statistics released by the B.C. Coroners Service.

The number of deaths from opioid overdoses was down slightly from 55 in July to 49 in August, and is well off the peak of 81 in January.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe noted for the first time this year, the deaths in August were down from the same month in 2015.

“Without the work that has been done to increase the availability of this antidote to opioid overdoses, I fear we would have seen many more deaths,” Lapointe said. “But no one should ever assume that the presence of naloxone at a scene will automatically mean a good outcome.”

The Fraser Health region accounted for 172 illicit drug overdose deaths from January through August, or 35 per cent of the provincial total.

There were 113 drug deaths in Vancouver Coastal, 93 on Vancouver Island, 80 in the Interior and 30 in the Northern health region.

The largest numbers of deaths by city have been in Vancouver (96 so far in 2016), Surrey (62), Victoria (39), Kelowna (27), Abbotsford and Kamloops (at 23 each), Maple Ridge and Nanaimo (20 each), and Langley (19).

The 488 deaths in total in B.C. so far is up 62 per cent from the same period of 2015.

The biggest increase in the rate of deaths occurred on Vancouver Island, where there was a 135 per cent increase. Vancouver Island also had the highest rate of deaths as a proportion of the population – 18.1 deaths per 100,000 people so far this year.

The powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl was detected in more than 60 per cent of deaths this year, twice the rate of 2015.

There have been an average of 37 fentanyl-linked overdose deaths per month this year.

The most common drug overdose combination has been cocaine mixed with fentanyl, officials said.

A multi-prong response strategy has been underway since the province declared a public health emergency in April and created a dedicated task force in July.

In the latest move, the health ministry approved a request to deregulate and unschedule naloxone, allowing the life-saving overdose treatment to be sold at more locations.

Work continues to try to block fentanyl production and distribution, increase harm-reduction options and increase the number of addiction recovery beds.

More than 2,100 no-charge take-home naloxone kits have been used to reverse overdoses out of more than 13,700 distributed.

Posters and now videos are being released to make recreational drug users more aware of the risks they face.

A new video features Leslie McBain, founder of support group Moms Stop the Harm, who lost her son Jordan to an overdose.

“It can happen to anyone’s child,” said McBain. “Education and awareness are at present the best tools we have for reducing drug harms including death.”

Vancouver Coastal Health is applying to Health Canada to add more safe consumption sites in the region.

Health officials in B.C. have complained the federal process for approving new harm reduction sites has been too onerous and slow since new legislation restricting them was passed by the former Conservative government in 2015.

Just Posted

Sunshine Valley songbird releases EP

Fifteen-year-old Ashley Pater has been singing and performing since age 9

Rescue boat theft marks third in 3 years for Agassiz-based SAR team

Eight-metre Spirit of Harrison rescue vessel was stolen Friday night, found Saturday morning

Hope stylist holds hair-athon for a good cause

Shayla Ross donating all proceeds of $10 cuts to the food bank

Hope arena turns green for hockey tourney

A second attempt at green ice, with proper ice paint, after food colouring experiment last year

Project Hope celebrates first birthday

Also: lego-mania comes to town, lineup of all-female comedians entertains Friday

VIDEO: B.C. Mounties reunite veteran with lost military medals

RCMP say Zora Singh Tatla, who served in the army in India for 28 years, is the righful owner

Federal government seeks public feedback on pedestrian safety

What safety measures do you think need to improved for pedestrians and cyclists?

4 facts to ring in St. Patrick’s Day

What do you really know about the Irish celebration?

Experts urging caution as rabbits die by the hundreds in B.C. city

Province of B.C. confirms more positive tests for rabbit haemorrhagic disease

Canucks snap scoreless streak but fall short in 5-3 loss to Sharks

Swiss forward Timo Meier nets two, including the game-winner, to lead San Jose

Search continues for 10-year-old Montreal boy missing since Monday

Montreal police said they are exploring every possibility in search for Ariel Jeffrey Kouakou

Airline passenger-rights bill claws back protections for travellers: Advocate

Bill C-49 would double tarmac delays, scrap compensation for flights affected by mechanical failures

Canadian research vessel to explore 19th Century shipwrecks

Commissioned this week in Victoria, the RV David Thompson is Parks Canada’s newest vessel

UPDATED: ‘New wave’ of anti-pipeline protests return to Trans Mountain facility

About 100 demonstrators with Protect the Inlet marched to the Burnaby terminal Saturday

Most Read