British Columbia

B.C. 'cautiously optimistic' as overdose deaths drop by 30%

The BC Coroners Service says the number of deaths for the first five months of 2019 show a year-over-year decrease.

Numbers from the B.C. Coroners Service show deaths decreasing year-over-year

InSite, a supervised drug consumption site in Vancouver, was Canada's first (Darrell Dyck/Canadian Press)

Drug-related deaths for the first five months of 2019 have decreased by 30 per cent across B.C. compared to the same time last year. 

Numbers released by the BC Coroners Service on Thursday show there were 462 illicit drug deaths between January and May 2019 compared to 651 in 2018. 

Andy Watson with the B.C. Coroners Service says even though the numbers will most likely increase as post-mortem results come in, there is certainly a shift.  

"This is a big decrease," said Watson. "But again, it's cautious optimism, we have to wait until more results are in before we can say with any certainty if we've turned a corner here."

The average monthly overdose death rate is also down, with the numbers showing an estimated 92 deaths per month this year compared to 130 last year. 

Overdose deaths across B.C. divided by month between 2009 and 2019. (BC Coroners Service )

More than half of overdose deaths occurred in private residences, according to the coroners report. Carfentanil — normally used as a tranquilizer for very large animals and 100 times more toxic than fentanyl — was detected in almost one quarter of the fentanyl-related deaths, while fentanyl was detected in approximately 83 per cent of overdose cases.

Top drugs responsible for overdose deaths in B.C. between 2016 and 2018. (BC Coroners Service)

Vancouver Coastal Health continues to see the highest rate of overdose deaths with 28 deaths per 100,000 people. Interior Health Authority is second with 22 per 100,000. 

'A very complex problem'

Despite being optimistic about the downward trend, B.C.'s health officer says there is still much to be done to make sure it continues. 

"I think this is a very complex problem that we're dealing with, so there's no one single thing that is going to solve it," Bonnie Henry said. "Addressing the issues of stigma and criminalization of people who have addictions and have substance use disorders I think are really important measures that we can't lose sight of."

She says places such as the recently announced urgent care centre in Surrey will play a crucial role in keeping the numbers down.

"One of the things that we've learned is that you need a place where people can be connected to all of the resources and support they need and the Surrey centre is a really great example," Henry added.

B.C. Mental Health and Addictions MinisterJudy Darcy agrees.

"the fact that the numbers are going down, it does say that our efforts are making a difference and that's encouraging, but when two to three people a day are still dying, we have a long way to go until we turn the corner on this terrible crisis."

According to the report, no deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites. 

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