Coroners' analysis shows average victim of B.C.'s opioid epidemic is male, using drugs alone, and often in pain

A separate report released the same week states that during the first eight months of 2018, there was an average of 122 deaths per month in B.C., compared to an average of 23 deaths per month five years earlier

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      The B.C. Coroners Service's latest monthly report on the province's drug-overdose crisis once again suggests there is no end in sight.

      The report, which covers up to the end of August 2018, states there were 98 fatal overdoses in B.C. that month.

      It brings the total for the year to 972, which equates to a projected 1,458 for all of 2018. That compares to 1,452 in 2017 and 993 the year before that.

      In 2018, the rate of fatal overdoses for the city of Vancouver stands at 56.1 per 100,000 people—an astronomical figure that is now nearly 10 times what the rate of overdoses was for Vancouver 10 years earlier (6.1 per 100,000 in 2008).

      "The three townships experiencing the highest number of illicit drug overdoses in 2018 are Vancouver, Surrey, and Victoria," the document reads.

      It notes that 98 deaths in August is down 27 percent from the previous month and down 20 percent from August 2017. However, 98 overdose deaths in a single month is still miles above what was once considered "normal".

      B.C.'s crisis has plateaued.

      During the first eight months of 2018, there was an average of 121.5 deaths per month. During the previous year, the average was 121.

      Compare these numbers to five years earlier when, in 2013—the year the dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl arrived in B.C.—there was an average of 27.6 overdose deaths per month, and to 2012, when there was 22.8.

      A separate report released by the coroners service last week (September 27) provides the clearest picture yet of the sorts of citizens these statistics represent.

      The investigation's main findings include:

      • 77 percent of people who died of a drug overdose were "regular or chronic users" of illicit drugs
      • 79 percent had contact with the health-care system during the year preceding their death and, of those, 56 percent had sought treatment for physical pain
      • 81 percent were male
      • 44 percent were employed at the time they passed away
      • 72 percent lived in a private residence while 13 percent lived in supportive or social-housing and only nine percent were homeless
      • 69 percent were alone when they used the drugs that killed them
      • 65 percent had never been married (compares to 27 percent of B.C.'s adult population)

      The data sample analyzed for the report consisted of 872 illicit-drug overdose deaths that occurred in B.C. in 2016 and 2017.

      An earlier report published in August 2017 states that from February 2015 to July 2016, Indigenous people in B.C. were three times more likely to die of a drug overdose compared to non-Indigenous people.

      Indigenous women were found to be especially vulnerable.

      The document states that Indigenous women were eight times more likely to overdose and five times more likely to suffer a fatal overdose compared to non-Indigenes women.

      According to the coroners service's latest monthly report, fentanyl was associated with 81 percent of overdose deaths during the first six months of 2018 and 84 percent of deaths in 2017.

      "Illicit fentanyl–detected deaths appear to account for the increase in illicit drug overdose deaths since 2012 as the number of illicit drug overdose deaths excluding fentanyl-detected has remained relatively stable since 2011," the report reads.

      "A review of completed cases from 2016-18 indicates that the top four detected drugs relevant to illicit drug overdose deaths were fentanyl (76%), cocaine (48%), methamphetamine/amphetamine (31%), and heroin (23%)."

      Travis Lupick / B.C. Coroners Service

      B.C.'s chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, is quoted in the report encouraging people who do choose to use drugs to do so in as safe a manner as possible.

      "Illicit drugs continue to be the source of more than three deaths per day in B.C.," Lapointe says quoted there. "Our expanded analysis confirms that more than two-thirds of these illicit drug deaths in 2016 and 2017 involve people using alone and indoors. We know this leads to a higher risk for death with a toxic drug supply.

      "We continue to urge those using substances to plan to take them in the company of someone who can provide help: administering naloxone and calling 911 for assistance."