Vancouver's rate of drug-overdose deaths now ranks among highest in North America

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      A new B.C. Coroners Service report makes clear the province’s unprecedented epidemic of drug-overdose deaths continues with no end in sight.

      The number of fatal overdoses across B.C. last March was 161, according to the coroner’s latest monthly update.

      That’s only one body less than the record high of 162 fatal overdoses that was set in December 2016.

      Monthly numbers are often revised several times as additional autopsies are completed and new lab data comes back, and so it’s possible the March 2018 number will grow to make that month the very worst on record.

       Since April 2017, there had been a general downward trend in overdose deaths across B.C. From 151 that month down to around 100 each month through the fourth quarter of 2017.

      But then the number jumped back up to 128 in January 2018, dipped to 102 in February, and now we know there were 161 in March.

      The city of Vancouver continues to see the highest number of deaths of any municipality in B.C. (and Canada, it’s widely believed).

      There were 50 fatal overdoses in Vancouver in March 2018, up from 18 in February, 34 in January, 30 in December 2017, and 29 in November.

      The last time Vancouver experienced 50 fatal overdoses in a single month was January 2017, when it recorded 53 overdose deaths.

      The synthetic-opioid fentanyl was associated with 83 percent of fatal overdoses during the first three months of 2018, about the same percentage in which fentanyl was detected in 2017.

      Adjusted for population, the rate of overdose deaths in the city of Vancouver is truly horrifying.

      During the first quarter of 2018, there were 59.6 fatal overdoses per 100,000 people in Vancouver.

      That’s up from 6.1 fatal overdoses per 100,000 people recorded in Vancouver 10 years earlier, in 2008.

      Many areas of North America are struggling with the same opioid epidemic as Vancouver. But a fatal overdose rate of 59.6 per 100,000 people puts Vancouver on par with the very worst affected areas of the United States.

      In 2016 in Allegheny county (which includes Pittsburgh), the rate of fatal overdoses per 100,000 people was 50.2, in Philadelphia, it was 46, and in Cuyahoga County (which includes Cleveland), it was 45, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (It should however be noted that while county-specific data for the U.S. is not yet available for 2017, the total number of fatal overdoses across the U.S. is believed to have increased last year.)

      Travis Lupick / B.C. Coroners Service

      In B.C., if an average of 130 deaths each month continues for the rest of this year, the province will see more than 1,500 fatal overdoses in 2018. That would compare to an average of 204 deaths per year recorded for B.C. from 2001 to 2010.