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113 people died of illicit drug overdoses in March in B.C. – the highest death toll in a year
VANCOUVER -- More than 100 illicit drug overdose deaths were reported in March in B.C., a threshold not broken in a year.
The latest provincial data was provided by the BC Coroners Service Thursday. The monthly report said 113 people died that month, a 61 per cent increase over the number of deaths in February.
The last time B.C. saw more than 100 overdose deaths in a month was in March 2019, the service said.
The report looked at where people are dying, basic demographics and what substances were in their system.
The coroner also looked at the average of the first two months compared to the increase in March, and said overdose deaths were up in every health authority in B.C.
Fraser Health and Island Health saw the largest increases: 91 and 80 per cent. The rates of death are highest in Hope, Fort Nelson, North Thompson, Lillooet and Arrow Lakes.
The highest rate of death is in the Northern Health region.
Most people were inside at the time of their OD; 57 per cent in private homes, and 29 in residences including social housing, SROs and shelters.
Just nine per cent were outdoors, in areas including vehicles, sidewalks and parks.
However, in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, specifically, the "other residences" category (including SROs and shelters) has been the most common place, at 48 per cent. This number is based on data collected from 2017 to March 2020.
A little over one-third of people in the health authority's jurisdiction overdosed in private homes.
The majority of deaths this year have been men, as in the last two years.
But in 2020, a larger portion has been within the age range of 19 to 49. This year, 73 per cent have been within those ages, compared to 68 per cent in the last two years.
Five people under the age of 18 and one aged 80 plus have died this year.
More than half of B.C.'s total deaths in 2020 have been between 30 and 49.
Fentanyl continues to be a factor in the province's opioid crisis, and has been detected in about 70 per cent of all illicit drug toxicity deaths this year.
This number is down from 86 per cent in 2019, but the coroner says it may change as further test results come in.
The coroner's report noted none of the deaths were reported at supervised consumption or overdose prevention sites.
Last month, questions were raised about whether physical distancing measures in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 were contributing to a spike in overdose deaths, particularly in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
A top doctor in the area said she was worried about collateral damage as a result of the pandemic, saying the number of cases in the neighbourhood is dwarfed by the number of ODs.
Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical officer of Vancouver Coastal Health told CTV News last week that her concern was people had gone too far in interpreting public health advice.
She said visits to supervised injection sites dropped to a third of what they were before the pandemic.
As for where the drugs are coming from when the borders are closed to non-essential travel, Vancouver police say they believe gangs are producing drugs themselves to get around a possible supply shortage.
And earlier in April, B.C.'s former provincial health officer said he had "grave concerns" about the impact of a service reduction during COVID-19.
Dr. Perry Kendall, who as the one to declare a public health emergency in B.C. four years ago as overdose deaths spiked, said widespread job loss and an increase in homelessness have created greater challenges for those dealing with substance use issues.