A public health emergency has been declared in British Columbia over a "significant" increase in drug-related overdoses and deaths.

The announcement was made Thursday morning by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall. It is the first time he has exercised his emergency powers.

Kendall said that overdose deaths have climbed steadily since 2010, reaching 474 in 2015, a 30 per cent increase over the 365 overdose fatalities in 2014.

The medical emergency status triggers new powers that will allow officials to collect real-time information on reported overdoses. That data will help pinpoint new spikes quickly, allowing medical service staff to warn and protect those at risk.

This year in B.C. there were 76 drug-related deaths in January alone, the largest number of deaths in a single month since at least 2007.

If that pattern continues this year, it could mean as many as 600 to 800 fatal overdoses in 2016.

As the rate of overdoses has grown, so has the proportion of illicit drug-related deaths due in part — or entirely — to fentanyl, which was involved in five per cent of deaths in 2012 and approximately 31 per cent in 2015.

Kendall said he will be conferring with a range of medical personnel in the coming weeks to work out the best way to collect and disseminate this information.

With files fom Richard Zussman