British Columbia

Illicit drug deaths continue to rise in British Columbia

Illicit drug deaths continue to climb in British Columbia, even after the province declared a public health emergency.

So far this year, 622 people have died from illicit drug overdoses, compared to 397 in 2015

A government investment of $800k has resulted in almost immediate treatment for many addicts. (CBC)

Illicit drug deaths continue to climb in British Columbia, even after the province declared a public health emergency in April.

Numbers released today by the B.C. Coroners Service show that through the first 10 months of the year, 622 people have died from overdose, compared to 397 in 2015. 

The coroners service recorded 63 drug-related deaths in October, up from 57 in September. In about 60 per cent of the cases, the victims had traces of fentanyl in their systems.

"The number of deaths in October was 63, which is about two a day, which is too, too many," said Barb McLintock, the spokeswoman for the B.C. Coroner's Service.

"Since this became a public health emergency back in April, we have tried to keep our numbers updated just so we can see how it is trending."

Illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C. in first 10 months of the year, 2007-2016

Source: B.C. Coroners Service

Numbers still rising

With the number of deaths still rising, the coroners service is continuing to stress the importance of harm-reduction. That includes a reminder not to use alone and having naloxone present and readily available.

The provincial government has increased the availability of naloxone, a drug that can help prevent overdose deaths, since declaring a provincial health emergency. 

"We still think that if it hadn't been for all the actions that have been taken, particularly the increase in the availability of naloxone, the numbers would be even higher yet, which is even more discouraging," said McLintock. 

B.C. officials in Ottawa

Premier Christy Clark and Health Minister Terry Lake are set to meet with federal Health Minister Jane Philpott on Thursday. 

Lake says B.C. will be pressing the federal government to remove Bill C2, The Respect for Communities Act, which creates restrictions on establishing supervised consumption sites.

British Columbia also wants to see an increase of RCMP resources in the province Lake says in currently lacking.

The provincial and federal health ministers met with first responders at Vancouver's Fire Hall No. 2 on Nov. 10 to talk about the public health crisis with fentanyl overdoses. (Daniel Beauparlant)

Canada has also not conducted any high-level diplomatic conversations with countries like China to curb the flow of drugs such as fentanyl into Canada. 

"If you look at the numbers here in British Columbia, 622 British Columbians died from illicit drug overdoses this year," said Lake. 

"If that were to be translated into the population of Ontario, that would be on the order of 1,865 deaths and I think if that were happening in Ontario the government in Ottawa would be quicker to do the kind of things that need to be done." 

NDP says more needs to be done

The B.C. NDP doesn't think all the solutions will be found at the federal level.

Public Safety critic Mike Farnworth introduced legislation in the spring that would put restrictions on the shipment of pill presses in British Columbia.

The RCMP believes this pill press, found in a March police raid of a fentanyl lab, was covered with powdered fentanyl. (RCMP)

The machines are used legally by pharmacists but are often also used to produce pills embedded with fentanyl and sold illegally. 

"If the house was back we could pass the bill in a day. Instead, we have the premier saying, we want Ottawa to do it. That's not good enough," said Farnworth. "Alberta has been able to bring in legislation. They did it ages ago."

The provincial government says it is looking at federal restrictions on pill presses, because it would be more effective than every province having different rules. 

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