VANCOUVER -- There were 147 suspected drug overdose deaths last month in B.C., or an average of 4.7 people each day in August.

The data released Wednesday from the BC Coroners Service showed a 71 per cent increase when compared with the same month last year, though the August total was 16 per cent lower than July's.

And the August toll was lower than in June, which was B.C.'s deadliest month yet in a public health emergency first declared in 2016.

The report looks at deaths from street drugs, including heroin, cocaine and fentanyl, as well as medications not prescribed to the person who has died, or combinations of both.

A total of 1,068 people have died in the province so far this year.

When compared to other common causes of unnatural deaths – suicides, car crashes, homicides and prescription drug overdoses – illicit drugs have been leading cause of death in B.C. since 2015.

So far this year, the communities seeing the highest number of deaths are Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria.

The death toll has been rising for the last three months in B.C., an increase partially attributed to the onset of novel coronavirus.

COVID-19 has interrupted the supply of street drugs from manufacturers in countries including the U.S., Mexico and China, meaning local dealers are making their own product, officials have said. This can result in changes to potency, meaning users may not know what dose they're taking.

Additionally, in an effort to follow physical distancing and stop the spread of the disease, many are using alone.

Last week, B.C.'s provincial health officer issued a new public health order meant to help stop overdoses.

Dr. Bonnie Henry's order will allow registered and psychiatric nurses to prescribe safer drugs as alternatives to street drugs.

By-the-numbers breakdown

Here are some key numbers featured in Wednesday's overdose report:

  • 0 – the number of deaths reported at supervised consumption and drug overdose prevention sites;
  • 40 – the rate of deaths per 100,000 people in the Northern Health region, which has the highest rate in the province, and where rates have increased in recent months;
  • 60 – percentage of 2020 deaths that occurred in the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal Health regions;
  • 69 – percentage of decedents between the ages of 30 and 59;
  • 81 – percentage of male decedents so far this year; and
  • 84 – percentage of drug toxicity deaths that occurred inside (and more than half were in private homes).

With files from The Canadian Press