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Illicit drug death numbers continue to rise

Provisional data shows that a total of 120 persons died as a result of illicit drug use during the month of March. Submitted photo

The number of illicit drug deaths in March remained high, with the third-highest number ever for a single month said the BC Coroners Service in a media release.

BC Coroners Service said provisional data shows that a total of 120 persons died as a result of illicit drug use during the month of March, an average of almost four deaths (3.9) per day for the month. In contrast, there were 79 illicit drug-related deaths in March 2016.

The report said individuals aged 30-39 and 40-49 continue to account for the largest percentage of illicit drug overdose deaths during the first three months of 2017. Males accounted for 82.7% of the suspected illicit drug overdose deaths.

As in previous months, the vast majority of deaths occurred inside, with 54.8% of all illicit drug overdoses occurring in private residences. The remainder occurred in other inside locations (34.3%) or outside, including vehicles (10.4%). There were no deaths at supervised consumption sites or drug overdose prevention sites.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe noted that fentanyl appears to account for the significant increase in illicit drug overdose deaths since 2012, as the number of illicit drug overdose deaths where fentanyl is not detected has remained relatively stable since 2011:

“The introduction of illicit fentanyl to the illegal drug market has had devastating results, with literally scores of our community members dying in their homes across the province," she said.

"It has been just over a year since the provincial health officer’s declaration of a provincial health emergency and, while harm reduction measures now in place are reversing thousands of overdoses, long-term measures to stem this tide must include meaningful education beginning at an early age and evidence-based treatment.”

The BC Coroners Service continues to work with the B.C. government’s Joint Task Force on Overdose Response and with health, community and law enforcement agencies to try to reduce this death toll.

The updated report on illicit drug deaths can be found at: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/death-investigation/statistical/illicit-drug.pdf

The updated report on fentanyl-detected illicit drug deaths can be found at: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/death-investigation/statistical/fentanyl-detected-overdose.pdf