Illicit Drug Deaths Remain High

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Victoria: The number of illicit drug deaths continued to drop slightly in August but the number of deaths from illicit drug use remains significantly increased from previous years, the latest statistics from the BC Coroners Service show.

In the first eight months of 2016 (Jan. 1 through Aug. 31), the total number of deaths from illicit drug use was 488, an increase of 61.6% from the same time period in 2015.

The total number of illicit drug deaths in July was 49, down from 55 in the previous month. (The numbers for the previous month change slightly as the result of further investigation of some deaths.)

“But perhaps the best news,” said chief coroner Lisa Lapointe, “is that for the first time this year, the total number of deaths in August was smaller than for the same month in 2015.”

Fentanyl remains a major contributor to the high number of deaths. From Jan. 1 through July 31, 2016, there were a total of 264 deaths in which fentanyl was detected, about 60% of all illicit drug deaths. That number is more than triple the number of fentanyl-detected deaths for the same period last year.

Lapointe stresses that the small reduction in death numbers should not lead to any sense of complacency on the part of those using drugs, their friends or families.

“We know from our health and public safety partners that many deaths are being prevented through the use of naloxone,” said Lapointe. “Without the work that has been done to increase the availability of this antidote to opioid overdoses, I fear we would have seen many more deaths. But no one should ever assume that the presence of naloxone at a scene will automatically mean a good outcome.”

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