17 deaths in a week prompts authority to warn of drug-overdose risk in Vancouver suburbs

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      The regional health authority that covers most of Metro Vancouver has issued a warning to the public after a sharp spike in suspected overdose deaths.

      “According to preliminary data provided by the BC Coroners Service, the Fraser Health region has seen a total of 17 suspected illicit drug overdose deaths over the past week in communities ranging from Surrey to Hope,” reads an August 25 media release.

      It notes that a majority of these deaths occurred inside people’s homes, as well as in hotels and motels.

      “There is a hidden epidemic, with nearly 70 percent of overdose deaths in Fraser Health occurring at home,” said Dr. Victoria Lee, chief medical health officer for Fraser Health, quoted in the release. “Our targeted response is an important step in supporting people who are at a higher risk of dying.”

      Fraser Health told the Straight that the 17 deaths occurred between August 18 and 23. A spokesperson declined to name the specific cities where the bodies were found.

      The regional authority’s area of jurisdiction includes municipalities across the Lower Mainland, including Burnaby, Coquitlam, Delta, Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford, and Maple Ridge.

      Travis Lupick / B.C. Coroners Service

      The Fraser Health media release notes there were similarities between some of the 17 cases of suspected fatal overdoses.

      “Since eight out of 10 people who died at home presented to our emergency departments at least once in the 12 months prior to their deaths, we are implementing a process in our emergency departments to identify people who may be at risk,” it reads.

      “As many of these individuals have histories of injuries and pain management concerns, we are implementing opioid stewardship to ensure more appropriate prescribing practices,” it adds.

      During the first six months of 2017, there were 258 fatal overdoses in the region covered by Fraser Health. According to the B.C. Coroners Service, that compares with 329 during all of 2016, 208 the year before that, and 127 in 2014.

      The latest coroners service report on overdose deaths across B.C. states that the synthetic opioid fentanyl was detected in 78 percent of fatal overdoses recorded during the first five months of 2017.

      Fraser Health provides care in a number of cities throughout the Fraser Valley, including Burnaby, Surrey, and New Westminster.
      Fraser Health

      The Fraser Health region excludes the city of Vancouver. Here, officials recently announced the city hit an all-time high for fatal overdoses in a single year. As of August 14, there had been 232 suspected drug-overdose deaths in 2017. That puts Vancouver on track for more than 400 deaths by the end of this year, as compared with 231 confirmed deaths in 2016, 136 the year before that, and 101 in 2014.

      "The rising number of overdose deaths this year is horrendous and absolutely heartbreaking," said Mayor Gregor Robertson, quoted in a media release.