More than 20,000 illicit drug overdose calls made in B.C. so far this year
Fentanyl-containing tablets are shown in this undated file photo.
VANCOUVER -- The number of deaths associated with illicit drugs is down this year, B.C.'s coroner says, but the supply should still be considered dangerous.
The latest update from the BC Coroners Service suggests there were 69 fatal illicit drug overdoses in October 2019. It's a 42 per cent decrease from the number of deaths in the same month last year, and in September, the number was down 58 per cent from September 2018.
The death toll in August was also down from the same month in 2018.
But the service warned a decrease in deaths doesn't mean those who use illicit drugs don't need to be cautious.
"While Coroners Service data shows that the number of fatalities related to illicit drug toxicity has decreased this year, we know from our partners in health care that the number of non-fatal drug toxicity events remains high," chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said in a statement Thursday.
She said so far this year first responders, dispatchers, health care providers and other groups have responded to more than 20,000 overdose calls. It's an average of 64 a day.
"The drug supply in our province is unpredictable and perilous, and the long-term impacts of drug toxicity can be severe," Lapointe said.
Brain injuries are possible among survivors due to lack of oxygen during the overdose.
"The decrease in the number of fatalities is a promising trend, but we need to continue to keep our focus on this crisis of unsafe supply and continue to explore meaningful measures to reduce the risks for all British Columbians," she said.
Lapointe also stressed the importance of not using drugs alone, and calling 911 if someone appears to be overdosing.
She said data from BC Emergency Health Services suggests that a patient has a 99 per cent chance of survival when a paramedic responds to a potential overdose.
"We must continue to remain vigilant," she said.
An average of about two people a day died of illicit drug overdose in October and September, according to the coroner's data.
So far this year, 71 per cent of deaths have been people aged 30 to 59. Nine-in-10 are male.
Vancouver has the highest number of overdose deaths at 210 – double that of Surrey, which is the city in second place. Victoria and Abbotsford are also experiencing a high number of overdoses at 48 and 39 respectively between January and the end of October.
But when it comes to highest rates based on population, Princeton, Grand Forks and Keremeos have more than 50 per 100,000 people.