For the past 16 months, Dean Wilson has watched the Downtown Eastside lose seven or eight people each week to drug overdoses.

Wilson has been a harm reduction activist for almost two decades and is the former president of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU).

"Can you imagine losing seven or eight people?" Wilson said. "You think of your own home. Ten square blocks to lose seven or eight people, you know, every week."

For the week of  Aug. 21, Vancouver police say the number may have been even higher, with nine suspected overdose deaths.

Honouring lives lost

The ongoing crisis brought many people to a community garden on Vancouver's West Hastings Street Thursday for International Overdose Awareness Day.

The event was held to honour the lives lost to illicit drugs. Many wrote tributes to the dead on a white heart placed on the side of a building.

The City of Vancouver says the number of suspected overdose deaths has reached 247 so far in 2017, surpassing the total of 231 fatalities in 2016.

And according to the B.C. Coroners Service, 780 people have died in the province so far this year from illicit drug overdose.

In 2016, that number was 978 — which puts B.C. on track to surpass last year's death toll.

Al Fowler, a board member for the B.C. Association of People on Methadone, says the overdose number would be even higher if it weren't for the life-saving drug naloxone.

Fowler said he's administered the opiate reversal drug many times during alley patrols. "It was horrendous," he said.

'Doesn't wake up'

"We were doing like four-hour shifts and in those four-hour shifts some people would be working on like five, six, seven, eight OD's."

Wilson said people from all walks of life are dying.

"Like some construction workers got a good job, union job ... and on pay day comes down here, has a couple drinks, buys some flap of drugs, goes home, does it and doesn't wake up."

The B.C. Coroners Service figures indicate that the group aged 30-39 has the highest number of overdose deaths in the province. So far this year, 238 people in that age group have died.

In addition, the report says those dying are predominantly male, with about 638 men dying this year compared to 142 women.

One major problem is access to prescription drugs, Wilson said. Many people can't afford them, forcing them to turn to more dangerous street drugs.

"Everybody should just start thinking, how can we live with this many people dying? And if they ever came down here and felt the way this whole community feels right now...that we're under siege. It's very tiresome. And it's just a horrible way to live."