More than 1,400 people in B.C. died of drug overdoses in 2017

More than 1,400 people in B.C. died of drug overdoses in 2017

Coroner says fentanyl was detected in 80 per cent of those deaths

A total of 1,422 people in B.C. died of an illicit drug overdose in 2017, marking the most sobering year of drug-related deaths in the province’s history.

That’s roughly seven people dying every two days, according to new data released by the B.C. Coroners Service, summarizing the second year of B.C.’s first-ever declared health emergency.

“It was the most tragic year ever,” B.C.’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said during a news conference Wednesday, alongside provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall, and Dr. Patricia Daly, executive director of the B.C. Overdose Emergency Response Centre.

READ MORE: Fentanyl-linked overdose deaths soar in B.C.

READ MORE: B.C. launches new drug-checking program, expands fentanyl testing

READ MORE: Five people die from overdoses in just over nine hours in Abbotsford

The powerful opioid fentanyl was detected in 81 per cent of last year’s deaths, compared to about 67 per cent in 2016.

Lapointe said all fentanyl deaths were linked to illegal sources, and without those deaths, only roughly 300 people would have suffered a fatal overdose.

All corners of the province were affected, with 895 people, the lion’s share, dying in the Lower Mainland.

In Vancouver – the city with the highest rate of overdoses – there were 338 deaths, followed by Surrey with 174, and Victoria with 91 deaths.

Central cities in B.C. were hit the hardest, including Kelowna, Kamloops and Prince George.

The B.C. Coroners Service does not release data for communities where fewer than seven people have died from an overdose because of privacy concerns.

How are officials combating overdoses?

The last four months of 2017 saw some relief in the number of deaths, giving health officials hope that new programs are working for some.

The average number of deaths per month between September and December was 96, compared with 129 per month in the first eight months.

In December, 99 people died, compared to the record-breaking 164 the previous December.

B.C. has opened 10 overdose prevention sites – including two mobile sites in Kelowna and Kamloops, as well as three safe consumption sites in Surrey and Vancouver, with a fourth awaiting Health Canada approval in Victoria.

Not a single people has died of an overdose at a safe consumption or overdose prevention site.

Further, health authorities and not-for-profit groups have hosted workshops on how to administer Naloxone, the overdose-reversing drug, which the government started subsidizing in November. In 2017, Naloxone was administered 14,000 times.

READ MORE: Three new supervised consumption sites approved in B.C.

READ MORE: Pop, candy and now opioids in vending machines?

However, 90 per cent of people who died last year did so while using alone, Lapointe said, illustrating that more needs to be done to reach those who feel too stigmatized to go to safe consumption or overdose prevention sites.

Daly said 2018 will be a year of identifying efforts, community by community.

The top drugs detected in victims, aside from fentanyl, were cocaine, methamphetamines and heroin, according to toxicology tests.

Daly said further solutions will include expanding access to fentanyl test strips, which were distributed late last year and are currently only available at overdose prevention sites.

She said the emergency response centre will begin deploying regional outreach teams, as well.

Kendall makes last call for decriminalization of illicit drugs

On his last day before retirement, Kendall blamed government’s prohibition on drugs as the root cause of fentanyl’s destruction.

A long-term advocate for prescription heroin, Kendall said he watched drug sources change from opium to heroin to fentanyl and now to the even more potent carfentanil, which accounted for 67 deaths in 2017.

READ MORE: B.C. launches emergency response centre to curb overdose deaths

ONE YEAR LATER: B.C.’s first public health emergency continues

Regulations and criminalization have prevented officials from replacing the illegal market with a safer choice, he said.

While he’s seen some changes in the public’s attitude towards the opioid epidemic, Kendall said it’s time to start thinking more broadly, outside of the box and comfort zones, to find methods that save lives.

Overdose deaths by city
Infogram

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Three Lake Country firefighters scaled Spion Kop in support of their Movember fundraiser. (District of Lake Country photo)
Lake Country firefighters scale Spion Kop for Movember fundraiser

The three firefighters did the arduous 2.63-kilometre climb while breathing bottled air

Quigley Elementary. (Google Maps)
UPDATE: More COVID-19 cases confirmed at Kelowna Schools

Interior Health announced exposures at both Kelowna Secondary and Quigley Elementary on Sunday

Former Vancouver Canucks goaltender Richard Brodeur discussing his paintings with the executive director of the Arts Council of the Central Okanagan Kirsteen McCulloch. (Contributed)
Former Canucks goalie King Richard’s art displayed at Kelowna gallery

Richard Brodeur starred in the Vancouver Canucks’ 1982 Stanley Cup run

Real Canadian Superstore in Kelowna. (Google Maps)
Kelowna Superstore employee tests positive for COVID-19

The last day the employee worked was Nov. 23

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
RCMP issue warning after woman assaulted while walking in Rutland

On Saturday, the unknown man ran up and grabbed her in an inappropriate manner before fleeing

(Dave Landine/Facebook)
VIDEO: Dashcam captures head-on crash between snowplow and truck on northern B.C. highway

Driver posted to social media that he walked away largely unscathed

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Top doctor urges Canadians to limit gatherings as ‘deeply concerning’ outbreaks continue

Canada’s active cases currently stand at 63,835, compared to 53,907 a week prior

A Canadian Pacific freight train travels around Morant’s Curve near Lake Louise, Alta., on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths along the railway tracks in Banff and Yoho national parks in Alberta and British Columbia has found that train speed is one of the biggest factors. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

Research concludes effective mitigation could address train speed and ability of wildlife to see trains

A airport worker is pictured at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C. Wednesday, March 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canada extends COVID restrictions for non-U.S. travellers until Jan. 21 amid second wave

This ban is separate from the one restricting non-essential U.S. travel

Menno Place. (Google Street View image.)
B.C. care home looks to hire residents’ family members amid COVID-19-related staff shortage

Family would get paid as temporary workers, while having chance to see loved ones while wearing PPE

A confirmed case of COVID-19 at Vernon’s Silver Star Elementary School has been reported. (Google Maps)
COVID case confirmed at Okanagan elementary school

Member of Silver Star Elementary community in Vernon self-isolating at home; parents alerted Nov. 28

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Steve French caught the halo moon on his camera on Saturday night. (Steve French Facebook)
Did you see the halo moon last night?

The halo is actually millions of tiny ice crystals

Most Read