British Columbia

B.C. overdose deaths now surpass 2016 total, coroner says

According to the B.C. Coroners Service, over 80% of the suspected illicit drug deaths to date in 2017 involved the opioid fentanyl.

Suspected number of deaths for the year to date is now 1,013 compared to 922 people in all of 2016

Dozens of people in Vancouver remembered victims of the overdose crisis at a recent event. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

The B.C. Coroner's Service says the number of overdose deaths in the province this year has now surpassed the total number of overdose deaths in all of 2016.

The service says in the first eight months of 2017, 1,013 people have already died from a suspected illicit drug overdose. In 2016, that number was 922.

Preliminary data says there were 113 suspected drug overdose deaths in August 2017, which is about 3.5 deaths per day.

Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe called the numbers "heartbreaking."

"This highlights the complexities of drug dependency and illicit drug use, and the importance of a coordinated, health-focused approach to this medical issue," she said.

Fentanyl suspected in majority of deaths

Over 80 per cent of the suspected illicit drug deaths to date in 2017 involved the opioid fentanyl.

In most cases, fentanyl was combined with other illicit drugs — most often cocaine, heroin or methamphetamines.

Lapointe said the data makes it clear that no illicit substance in the province can be considered safe, "whether you know your dealer or not."

"Anyone using an illicit substance must be prepared for an adverse effect and must have someone else present who is willing and able to help."

According to the B.C. Coroners, Vancouver had the highest rate of deaths in the province. Four out of five deaths were male, and three-quarters involved people between the ages of 30 and 59 years of age.

The vast majority — 90 per cent — of deaths occurred indoors, and no deaths occurred at any supervised consumption site or at any of the drug overdose prevention sites.