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. 

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."

heroin

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

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said the BC Coroners Service detected carfentanil in 37 per cent of overdoses in the first nine months of the year and 922 people died in 2016 of illicit overdoses. In fact, carfentanil was detected in 37 cases, not 37 per cent of cases and the B.C. Coroners Service recently updated the number of 2016 illicit overdose deaths to 981 to reflect port-mortem test results.
    Nov 09, 2017 1:37 PM PT