'An exceptionally high toll': Fentanyl, overdoses claim 488 in B.C.

Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe says there were 488 illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C. between Jan. 1 and Aug. 30 of this year.

488 deaths represents a 61.6 per cent increase compared the same time period last year

The BC Coroner says the most common combination in drug fatalities is fentanyl and cocaine. (CBC)

Despite a slight drop in the number of overdoses in British Columbia last month, the province's chief coroner is warning against complacency in tackling the fentanyl epidemic.

"There is little good news to share," Lisa Lapointe told a news conference held to announce the latest statistics on the toll of the opioid epidemic.

According to the latest figures, there were 488 apparent illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C. from January to August 2016.

That compares to a total of 505 overdose deaths in all of 2015.

Lapointe said the tests to determine how many opioid deaths are related to fentanyl take longer to complete, but all indications are that the drug is still taking lives at an unprecedented rate.

"We still see fentanyl taking an exceptionally high toll," she said.

The most common combination in drug fatalities is cocaine and fentanyl, meaning many victims are not even aware that they are taking the drug that kills them. Very few deaths are due to fentanyl alone.

But there is a glimmer of hope the epidemic may be slowing.

There were 49 illicit drug overdose deaths in August, as opposed to 55 the month before. By far, the highest number of deaths came in January when 81 people died.

Lapointe credited the slowing pace of overdoses to a decision to de-schedule naloxone, a drug which provides an antidote to an overdose.