British Columbia

'More we need to do': Overdose deaths in Vancouver surpass last year's total

The City of Vancouver says more people have died from drug overdoses so far in 2017 than all of last year.

A suspected 232 people have died from drug overdoses in Vancouver so far this year, city estimates

Two men hold up a sign at a June 8, 2016 rally in Vancouver calling for more supervised injection services to deal with a growing crisis of opioid-related overdose deaths. (Denis Dossmann/CBC)

The City of Vancouver says more people have died of a drug overdose so far in 2017 than during all of 2016.

After the Vancouver Police Department reported three deaths during the week of Aug. 7, the city says the total number of overdose deaths in the city is now estimated at 232.

Last year, the B.C. Coroners Service reported 231 fatalities for Vancouver, many involving the opioid painkiller fentanyl.

"The rising number of overdose deaths this year is horrendous and absolutely heartbreaking," said Mayor Gregor Robertson in a press release.

"We will continue to work with the new provincial government and pour City resources into tackling this crisis. We can't be complacent and let the number of deaths from this public health crisis be the new normal."

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First responders have handled an average of 135 overdose calls a week this year, he said.

Robertson said the decriminalization of illicit drugs and expansion of injectable treatment options — such as medical-grade heroin — must be explored, echoing a report issued last week by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy spent Monday checking front-line addiction services in Victoria and, in a release, said the Vancouver numbers show "there are gaps in services and there is more we need to do."

"The feedback I am getting from people working on the front lines, people who are living with addiction and important partners like the City of Vancouver is guiding actions we are taking now and will take going forward," she is quoted as having said.

"Mayor Robertson and I met earlier this month. The city is doing remarkable work and we are committed to working closely with them and other partners to save lives and improve access to treatment and recovery."

According to the B.C. Coroner's Service, a total of 780 people died of a drug overdose between Jan. 1 and June 30 this year, an 88 per cent increase from the same period in 2016.

With files from The Canadian Press