British Columbia

Drug deaths are down, but thousands are still overdosing in B.C, coroner says

The number of illicit drug overdose deaths has dropped in British Columbia, but the coroners service says users need to remain cautious about an unpredictable and toxic drug supply.

Coroner warns users drug supply continues to be toxic, unpredictable

The rapidly increased distribution of take-home naloxone kits — the drug that reverses the effects of opioids like heroin and fentanyl — is one initiative researchers are crediting with the prevention of thousands of overdose deaths in B.C. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The number of illicit drug overdose deaths has dropped in British Columbia, but the coroners' service says users need to remain cautious about an unpredictable and toxic drug supply.

The BC Coroners Service said there were 69 suspected overdoses deaths in October, a 42 per cent decrease from those killed by illicit drugs in the same month last year.

Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said while fatalities have decreased, the service knows from its health-care partners that the number of non-fatal overdoses remains high.

She said the decrease in overdose deaths is a promising trend, but the drug supply in the province remains unpredictable and the long-term impact of drug toxicity can be severe.

The coroners service said the crisis is far from over, pointing out that B.C. paramedics responded to more than 20,000 overdose calls between January and October this year.

The service said when paramedics respond to a potential overdose patient, that person has a 99 per cent chance of survival.

"This is why all partners in public health continue to stress the importance of not using alone and to call 911 if you see someone who may be experiencing adverse effects of a drug event,'' Lapointe said in a statement. "We must continue to remain vigilant.''

The B.C. government declared a public health emergency in April 2016 when the number of overdose deaths jumped as the illicit opioid, fentanyl, began showing up in street drugs.

Statistics from the coroners service said fentanyl or its analogues were detected in about 85 per cent of the illicit drug deaths so far this year, and it was a factor in 87 per cent of the overdose deaths last year.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.