British Columbia

Drug overdose deaths in B.C. reach all-time high in November

B.C.'s chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, says an average of four people a day died from an illicit drug overdose in November, the highest number ever recorded for a single month.

Lisa Lapointe, B.C.'s chief coroner, says 128 people died last month, an average of 4 a day

Staff at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver help a woman who overdosed in a public washroom. On Monday, B.C.'s head coroner announced that 128 people died of an illicit drug overdose in the province in November, the highest number recorded for a single month. (Frederic Gagnon/CBC)

New figures released by the BC Coroners Service paint an increasingly bleak and deadly picture of the overdose crisis in the province. 

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said 128 people died of an illicit drug overdose in November — an average of more than four people per day.

From left, Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.'s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe and Clayton Pecknold provide a grim update on overdose deaths Monday. (Richard Zussman/CBC)

That is the most overdose deaths recorded in a single month in B.C., up from the previous high of 82 in January 2016.

There have been 755 overdose deaths in the province since Jan. 1 to 755, an increase of 70.4 per cent over the same period last year.

Fentanyl driving spike

Lapointe said the increase in deaths is mostly due to the presence of fentanyl, and worries that a new drug could be driving the most recent spike.

"It may be a more toxic fentanyl than usual circulating, or it could be the terrifying possibility of carfentanyl being introduced broadly into the illicit drug stream," she said. 

Lapointe said December is shaping up to be equally lethal.

"December is looking like a very bad month, and we are quite fearful that the drug supply is increasingly toxic and increasingly unpredictable," she said.

Of the 755 overdose deaths so far this year:

  • 80 per cent of those who died were male.
  • Individuals age 30-49 accounted for 51.7 per cent of the deaths.
  • Saturdays and Sundays were the most fatal days.
  • Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria are the top locations for overdose deaths.

Dr. Perry Kendall, the province's health officer, said it's common for addicts now to overdose multiple times a day and that rapid drug replacement therapy is needed to address the crisis.

"The first line of treatment should be providing replacement treatment — suboxone or methadone," he said. "What we need is a continuum of service where people ready to get into treatment can be assessed and moved onto a stabilization program."

Kendall said recently opened supervised injection sites are essential and Lapointe pointed out that the majority of the people who have died were using drugs alone.

Director of Police Services Clayton Pecknold said the federal government needs to move more quickly in assigning RCMP drug enforcement agents in British Columbia. 

"Let's be clear, this needs a national response," he said. "The primary source of this drug is coming from China through the mail system. Clearly, when you're bringing in this type of toxic substance, which has been described as a poison, we've got to try and stem the flow."