British Columbia

Number of deadly overdoses in B.C passes 1,100 for 2017

Deaths spike slightly in days following income assistance payments, coroners service says

CBC News

November 10, 2017

Women write messages on a banner during a memorial service to remember those who have died in the province as a result of the drug overdose crisis on International Overdose Awareness Day in the Downtown Eastside on Aug. 31. According to the B.C. Coroners' Service, up to the end of September, 1.103 people have died after overdosing on illicit drugs in the province. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The BC Coroners Service says more than 1,100 British Columbians died due to a suspected illicit drug overdose in the first nine months of the year, with most happening in the days immediately following welfare payments.

On Thursday, the service said there were 80 suspected deaths in September — up 31 per cent from the same month last year. 

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That brings the total for the year up to 1,103, far surpassing the 981 in all of 2016.

Previously, the number of deaths last year was 922 — but the BC Coroners Service updated that number to 981 this week to reflect recent post-mortem test results.

Fentanyl was detected in 83 per cent of this year's deaths, most often laced in heroin, cocaine or methamphetamines. The province also released primary numbers on carfentanil from the first months of testing, saying it was detected in 37 fatalities.

"I think there are a number of different drugs out there right now that people may have thought were safe and are now unsafe," said Andy Watson, spokesperson for the coroners office.

Spike after income assistance cheques

Watson also noted that more fatal overdoses happen in the days following welfare payments than any other days of the month.

Between January and September, there was an average of six deaths a day in the five days after cheques were handed out. The average on other days of the month was 3.6.

Still, Watson said the crisis doesn't discriminate.

"There's been a myth out there that this is a street problem, but really, this is impacting people from all walks of life — from professionals to people that may have thought the substances they were receiving were safe."

Vancouver, Surrey, and Victoria are the three townships experiencing the highest number of illicit drug overdoses in B.C., according to the service. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Vancouver, Surrey, and Victoria are experiencing the highest number of illicit drug overdoses in the province. Men are disproportionately affected by the overdose crisis, accounting for four out of every five deaths. More than 90 per cent of deadly overdoses happened indoors.

On Thursday, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Minister Judy Darcy said the province may need to reevaluate its response in terms of what's working and what isn't.

"I think it's time to have a conversation about that," she said.

With files from Tanya Fletcher

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