Overdose deaths up from 40 a month in 2015 to 64 a month this year

Provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall also says the percentage of overdoses involving fentanyl has jumped to 49 percent from less than a third in 2015.

Public health emergency was declared last month

A chart showing overdose deaths from illicit drugs in B.C. (CBC)

Drug overdose deaths have reached an average of 64 per month, up from 40 per month last year despite a public health emergency called last month.

Provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall also says the percentage of overdoses involving fentanyl has jumped to 49 per cent from less than a third in 2015.

Kendall says better info is going to be needed to get a handle on the overdose crisis, and on Thursday morning, orders for information gathering went out to ERs and ambulances across the province.

"With the mapping we're getting from B.C. Ambulance, we can get to location. We can get to time of day where they're responding to overdoses, and that will tell us exactly where we should target our resources," he told On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko.

Kendall says the declaration of a public health emergency has seen some positive results, including more awareness, more Naloxone being given to drug-using patients when they are discharged from hospitals and discussions at the municipal level to request supervised injection sites from Health Canada.

A chart showing overdose deaths in B.C. where fentanyl was detected. (CBC)

The data also shows overdose deaths have jumped 327 percent since 2008, and Kendall says long-term solutions might require more than medical action.

"The logical answer, if we didn't have moral qualms or political qualms or ethical qualms, would be to offer people a safer alternative," he said.

"But that means a prescription alternative and that is completely contrary to most of our drug policies … so that is a political or policy challenge."

Kendall says he's hopeful about the wider availability of Suboxone in B.C., an opioid replacement drug safer  than methadone, and he's hopeful it will become even more widely available in the future.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast


To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Despite declaration of health emergency, opioid overdose deaths growing