British Columbia saw more overdose deaths in the first eight months of 2017 than in all of 2016, according to new data from the BC Coroners Service.
Numbers released Thursday show that, by the end of August, there had been 1,013 fatal illicit drug overdoses, 31 more than the 982-death total in 2016.
In August alone, 131 people died in the province, an average of 3.5 deaths per day and a 79 per cent increase from August 2016.
"It's heartbreaking to see the continued high numbers of deaths throughout the province despite the numerous initiatives and harm-reduction measures in place,” chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, said in a statement Thursday. “This highlights the complexities of drug dependency and illicit drug use, and the importance of a co-ordinated, health-focused approach to this medical issue."
While prevention measures have not helped decrease the overall number of deaths, none of the fatal overdoses this year occurred at supervised consumption sites or drug prevention clinics.
Nearly 75 per cent of those who died were between the ages of 30 and 59. Four out of five victims were male.
Vancouver saw 255 deaths between January and August, the highest of any municipality in the province by at least 132 deaths. Surrey was next with 123 fatalities.
According to the statistics, Vancouver Coastal Health currently has highest rate of overdose deaths in the province at 38.9 per 100,000 people.
Fentanyl a growing factor in overdose deaths
According to the province’s report, more than 80 per cent of these illicit drug deaths involved fentanyl—a 151 per cent increase from the same period of 2016.
In most cases, the report said, fentanyl was combined with other illicit drugs, such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines.
The numbers also show that overdose deaths that do not involve fentanyl have been steadily declining since 2015. That means that, not only is the number of fatal overdoses on the rise, but fentanyl consumption is becoming an increasingly strong factor in those deaths.
The province says, in addition to a medical approach to the overdose crisis, awareness and education efforts are the key to curbing these alarming statistics.
"We also need people to know that no illicit substance in this province can be considered safe, whether you know your dealer or not,” Lapointe said. “Anyone using an illicit substance must be prepared for an adverse effect and must have someone else present who is willing and able to help."