So many people have died of overdoses in B.C. this year that illicit drugs are now killing more people than automobile accidents.
That’s according to the province’s chief coroner, who was in Vancouver today (June 9) for a meeting about the problem that was hosted by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
“Last year, there were 300 deaths in motor vehicle incidents, and this year, as the minister said, we’ve had 308 deaths already from illicit drug overdoses,” Lisa LaPointe said at a news conference. “If this trend were to continue, we’d be looking at about 750 deaths this year. So it’s hugely significant. The number of people dying from illicit drug overdoses is higher than any other unnatural category.”
According to preliminary data released today by the coroners service, during the first four months of 2016, the synthetic opioid fentanyl was detected in 56 percent of people who died of an illicit drug overdose.
That’s up from fentanyl found in 31 percent of fatal overdoses the previous year, 25 percent in 2014, 15 percent in 2013, and five percent in 2012.
Compared to the more than 750 overdose deaths that are projected to occur by the end of 2016, in 2015, there were 484 such deaths. That was up from 364 in 2014, 331 in 2013, and 273 in 2012.
Yesterday (June 8), drug users held a demonstration in the 100 block of East Hastings, calling for a more urgent government response to the increase in deaths.
The province declared a public-health emergency on April 14. Activists at the protest argued that since then, there’s been little action.
“While it’s good that we’re hearing the government saying this is an emergency and acknowledging the reality that exists here in the neighbourhood and on the streets, we are not seeing action,” said Doug King, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society who spoke at the demonstration. “We are not seeing it fast enough.”