B.C.'s overdose epidemic continues at an unprecedented pace of more than 100 dead every month

Five years since the synthetic-opioid fentanyl arrived in Vancouver, numbers of overdose deaths remain higher than ever. There is no end to the crisis in sight

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      The latest drug-overdose statistics from the B.C. Coroners Service reveal an increasingly clear picture: more than 100 fatal overdoses each month is the new normal for British Columbia.

      It's a number that as recently as just five years ago was unimaginable.

      In 2013, the average number of overdose deaths each month in B.C. was 28.

      The coroner's latest batch of monthly data, released today (November 14), covers up to the end of September 2018. It shows that that month, there were 128 overdose deaths across the province.

      Before November 2016, B.C. had never experienced more than 90 fatal overdoses in a single month.

      Then, in November 2016, there were 142 overdose deaths. Since that month, there have only been two months—September and October 2017—when less than 100 deaths were recorded in B.C.

      And so we've hit a plateau.

      The number of fatal overdoses in B.C. each month is no longer increasing. But it remains above 100 deaths per month and not far below the province's all-time high of 160 deaths recorded in both March 2018 and December 2016.

      During the first nine months of this year, 1,143 people in B.C. died after taking illicit drugs. That puts the province on track for a projected 1,524 deaths by the end of 2018.

      From 2001 to 2010, the average number of deaths recorded in B.C. each year was 204.

      On September 23, the Straight reported that B.C.'s epidemic of drug-overdose deaths is now so severe that illicit narcotics are single-handedly responsible for dragging down the average life expectancy for the population of the entire province.

      "Recent data from B.C. show that life expectancy dropped by 0.12 year from 2014 to 2016 due to deaths involving substances, with over 90% of these related to opioids," reads an October 23 report by Canada's chief public-health officer. "This dip in life expectancy was more pronounced in men and in poorer neighbourhoods."

      Travis Lupick / B.C. Coroners Service

      Today's B.C. Coroners Service report follows the November 13 publication of a Statistics Canada analysis that looks at socioeconomic characteristics of B.C. residents who died of an illicit-drug overdose between 2011 and 2016.

      "While the drug overdose crisis has affected all provinces and territories, the crisis has been most acute in British Columbia, where most illicit drug overdose deaths have occurred," is begins.

      "Analysis of this fatal overdose cohort indicate that those dying from preventable illicit drug overdoses in British Columbia are a diverse population," the document continues. "This group includes both people who had not been in contact with the hospital, employment, social income assistance or justice systems in the years prior to their fatal overdose, as well as those who had. This highlights the need for a diverse plan of action when attempting to identify potential points of intervention around preventable fatal overdoses."

      The report's findings include:

      • 26 percent of people who died of an illicit-drug overdose in B.C. had "experienced at least one acute care in-patient hospitalization" during the 12 months preceding their death
      • 40 percent had visited an emergency room during the 12 months before their death
      • 15 percent had visited an emergency room four times or more during the 12 months before their death
      • Roughly one-third of people who died of an illicit-drug overdose in B.C. had experienced an interaction with police during the 24 months preceding their death
      • 11 percent had experienced four or more interactions with police or more during the 24 months before their death

      "One-third of people who fatally overdosed in British Columbia...who had had contact with police died within three months of the contact," the report adds.

      Statistics Canada

      Concerning income and employment, the Statistics Canada analysis paints a diverse portrait of those who have died after taking drugs in B.C.

      "In British Columbia, 26% of people who died from an illicit drug overdose were employed in each of the five years prior to death," it reads. "In contrast, 34% of people who died from an illicit drug overdose in British Columbia had no earnings over this same time period."

      The report notes that people earning lower incomes appear to be disproportionately affected by B.C.'s overdose crisis.

      "People in British Columbia who were employed in the year prior to their fatal overdose earned, on average, $28,437 that year," it reads. "By comparison, workers in British Columbia reported an average employment income of $42,000 in 2016."

      The B.C. government declared a public-health emergency in relation to overdose deaths on April 14, 2016.