Eight scary takeaways from B.C.'s June 2017 update on illicit-drug overdose deaths

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      Last Friday (June 30) the B.C. Coroners Service released updated numbers for drug-overdose deaths across British Columbia.

      The date covers the first five months of 2017, up to May 31.

      Here are six quick takeaways from the latest statistics on the province’s fentanyl crisis.

      • For the first time, B.C. is on track for more than 1,500 deaths in a single year. Based on the first five months of 2017 data, B.C. will see 1,536 deaths by the end of this year. For context, the average number of annual overdose deaths in B.C. during the years 2001 to 2010 was 204. This means we’re on track for 7.5 times the number of deaths in a year that, not too long ago, was once considered normal for B.C.
      • Based on the first five months of 2017 data, the City of Vancouver is on track for 430 deaths this year. Last year, the city saw 228 fatal overdoses, and in 2015 it saw 136. For context, the average number of annual overdose deaths in Vancouver during the years 2001 to 2010 was 58.
      • As new test results have come in, B.C.'s overdose count for 2016 has continued to grow each month. Once thought to be 913, the 2016 total now stands at 967.
      • The new normal for overdose deaths across B.C. remains above 120 per month for almost the seventh month in a row. (One exception was February 2017, when the number of deaths was 116. The jump above 120 deaths per month occurred in November 2016. Before that, in October of that year, there were 75 deaths, in September, there were 60, and in August, there were 59.)
      TRAVIS LUPICK / B.C. CORONERS SERVICE
      • During the first four months 2017, fentanyl was detected in 72 percent of drug-overdose deaths across B.C., up a little from 68 percent in 2016 and up a lot from 29 percent in 2015, 25 percent in 2014, and 15 percent in 2013.
      • In response to the arrival of fentanyl and a steep rise in overdose deaths, the B.C. Ministry of Health declared a public-health emergency in April 2016. Since then, 1,313 people in B.C. died after taking drugs.
      • Adjusted for population, the rate of overdose deaths in B.C. in 2017 stands at 32 per 100,000 people, up from 20.4 in 2016. If B.C. were a state in America, a fatal-overdose rate of 32 would place it among the top five states for overdose deaths in the country. (Note, however, that varying definitions for an overdose death and different calculating methods make direct comparisons between B.C. and the U.S.—as well as B.C. and the rest of Canada—problematic.)
      • For more than seven months now, B.C. has seen an average of more than four overdose deaths every day.
      TRAVIS LUPICK / B.C. CORONERS SERVICE

      Last month, on June 20, the Canadian Press reported that one in four organs donated in B.C. during the first six weeks of 2017 came from people who died of an overdose involving fentanyl. During those weeks, there were double the number of organ donations in B.C. compared to the same period in the year before.

      Roughly five years into a sharp rise in illicit-drug overdose deaths, the numbers still seem to only get worse with each passing month.

      Travis Lupick is a journalist based in Vancouver. His first book, Fighting for Space: How a Group of Drug Users Transformed One City's Struggle with Addiction, will be published in October 2017. You can follow him on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

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