British Columbia reached a new peak of 914 illicit drug overdose deaths last year with the arrival of the deadly opioid fentanyl. Vancouver Fire Department Medical Unit responds to an unresponsive man after he injected a drug in the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver, December, 9, 2016.
Vancouver — British Columbia’s coroners’ service says there were 136 suspected overdose deaths in the province in April.
That amounts to almost double the number of deaths compared with the same month last year.
The newest data bring the total number of overdose deaths in B.C. to 488 in the first four months of 2017. At this point last year, that number was 290.
Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said in a statement that it’s concerning that more than half of the deaths occur in private residents and many drug users don’t take advantage of safe consumption sites.
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“I strongly urge those using illicit drugs to do so only at a safe consumption site or drug overdose prevention site, if one is accessible,” she said. “The risks associated with all illicit drugs in the province are extreme, and access to emergency medical assistance is essential to prevent fatal consequences.”
Lapointe also urged users to first take a smaller dose to limit the effects of a highly potent batch and use drugs in the presence of someone who can administer the overdose-reversing drug naloxone and call 911.
Men account for over 80 per cent of the deaths so far this year, and more than half the deaths involved people aged 30 to 49.
Vancouver has the highest number of fatalities this year, with 144 overdoses, followed by 51 in Surrey and 37 in Victoria.
Overdose deaths have been largely attributed to the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which was connected to nearly 45 per cent of drug deaths between 2015 and 2016.
The coroners service says data reflecting the proportion of fentanyl related deaths from a more recent period is expected to be released in June.