B.C.’s drug overdose death toll climbs to 488

Fraser region accounts for most deaths so far this year, province deregulates naloxone

Fentanyl pills seized by police.

The drug overdose crisis has claimed 488 lives in B.C. in the first eight months of the year up until the end of August, according to new statistics released by the B.C. Coroners Service.

The number of deaths from opioid overdoses was down slightly from 55 in July to 49 in August, and is well off the peak of 81 in January.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe noted for the first time this year, the deaths in August were down from the same month in 2015.

“Without the work that has been done to increase the availability of this antidote to opioid overdoses, I fear we would have seen many more deaths,” Lapointe said. “But no one should ever assume that the presence of naloxone at a scene will automatically mean a good outcome.”

The Fraser Health region accounted for 172 illicit drug overdose deaths from January through August, or 35 per cent of the provincial total.

There were 113 drug deaths in Vancouver Coastal, 93 on Vancouver Island, 80 in the Interior and 30 in the Northern health region.

The largest numbers of deaths by city have been in Vancouver (96 so far in 2016), Surrey (62), Victoria (39), Kelowna (27), Abbotsford and Kamloops (at 23 each), Maple Ridge and Nanaimo (20 each), and Langley (19).

The 488 deaths in total in B.C. so far is up 62 per cent from the same period of 2015.

The biggest increase in the rate of deaths occurred on Vancouver Island, where there was a 135 per cent increase. Vancouver Island also had the highest rate of deaths as a proportion of the population – 18.1 deaths per 100,000 people so far this year.

The powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl was detected in more than 60 per cent of deaths this year, twice the rate of 2015.

There have been an average of 37 fentanyl-linked overdose deaths per month this year.

The most common drug overdose combination has been cocaine mixed with fentanyl, officials said.

A multi-prong response strategy has been underway since the province declared a public health emergency in April and created a dedicated task force in July.

In the latest move, the health ministry approved a request to deregulate and unschedule naloxone, allowing the life-saving overdose treatment to be sold at more locations.

Work continues to try to block fentanyl production and distribution, increase harm-reduction options and increase the number of addiction recovery beds.

More than 2,100 no-charge take-home naloxone kits have been used to reverse overdoses out of more than 13,700 distributed.

Posters and now videos are being released to make recreational drug users more aware of the risks they face.

A new video features Leslie McBain, founder of support group Moms Stop the Harm, who lost her son Jordan to an overdose.

“It can happen to anyone’s child,” said McBain. “Education and awareness are at present the best tools we have for reducing drug harms including death.”

Vancouver Coastal Health is applying to Health Canada to add more safe consumption sites in the region.

Health officials in B.C. have complained the federal process for approving new harm reduction sites has been too onerous and slow since new legislation restricting them was passed by the former Conservative government in 2015.

Just Posted

Central Saanich Police training a drug recgonition expert

Role needed as Canada nears cannabis legalization this year

Six stories a non-starter at Sidney’s Cedarwood Inn site

Site redevelopment plans go back to the drawing board

Latitude 48 Paddling Club races through Victoria waters

Local team clinched victory in Nanaimo to kick off season that will see them compete in Hawaii

Greater Victoria police busy with St. Patrick’s Day calls

Victoria police respond to 82 calls for service

Royals gear up for WHL playoffs after suffering season-worst loss

Victoria has a solid 7-3 record this year against opening-round opponent Vancouver

Victoria airport terminal expansion under way

Videos posted showing work in progress over the next 27 months

Women’s Expo seeks to empower women this weekend

Victoria Women’s Expo set for Saturday and Sunday at Pearkes Recreation Centre

UPDATE: Orca Airways grounded due to safety issues

Merger with Integra Air results in loss of operator’s certificate

Investigation into bullying allegations against Elizabeth May still weeks away

Federal Green Party Leader asked for third-party investigation back in January

UPDATE: Costco rumours spurred on by vague email reference

Rumours of big box stores coming to Central Saanich or Sidney happening since 1994

Anti-pipeline protestors block Kinder Morgan tanker near Seattle

Protest was spurred on by the 28 anti-Kinder Morgan activists arrested in Burnaby

Mount Douglas Mathletes enjoying success by the numbers

Saanich Grade 9s walk away with top five spots in Island math competition

Some surprises in new book about B.C. labour movement

“On the Line” charts history of the union movement back to the 1800s

B.C. cyclist races to first win of the season in New Zealand

Casey Brown captures Enduro title by more than two minutes at Crankworx Rotorua

Most Read