During just the first two months of 2017, there were 219 illicit-drug overdose deaths in British Columbia.
That’s more than the annual average for 2001 to 2010. During those years, there was an average of 212 fatal overdoses across the province. (The statistics exclude prescription drugs and deaths ruled intentional.)
The new numbers, from the latest B.C. Coroners Service report on monthly deaths, put B.C. on track for another record year of fatal overdoses.
Last year, there were 922 overdose deaths in B.C. That was up from 513 in 2015, 366 in 2014, 332 in 2013, and 269 in 2012.
To put these numbers in perspective, the number of traffic fatalities in B.C. in 2015 was 300.
The numbers for January and February (117 and 102, respectively) actually mark a short-term decline in drug-overdose deaths.
In November 2016 there were 128 fatal overdoses, and in December there were 142. That’s an all-time monthly high in records going back to 1989.
Adjusted for population, deaths in 2016 were highest in Vancouver, where 32 people per 100,000 died of an illicit drug overdose. In second place was the Thompson Cariboo region with 28.1, then the province’s Northeast with 24.9, the Okanagan with 20.7, Fraser East with 20.3, and then Central Vancouver Island with 20.2.
The synthetic opioid fentanyl continues to be a driving force in the rising number of overdose deaths across B.C.
“Drugs tested by Health Canada indicate that fentanyl and its analogues are being detected in samples of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine,” reads the coroner’s report dated March 17.
“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 (average of 293 deaths per year).”