The BC Coroners Service says more than 1,100 British Columbians died of suspected drug overdoses in the first nine months of the year—nearly twice as the same time in 2016.

“It really is devastating,” Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy told reporters Thursday. “We still are seeing an average of four people dying a day in British Columbia and this trend is worsening.”

Preliminary data in a report released Thursday show there were 80 suspected overdose deaths in September alone, up 31 per cent from the same month last year.

A total of 1,103 people died between January and the end of September, 496 more than by this time last year. The 2017 toll is already 121 people higher than the number of lives lost in all of 2016.

Fentanyl appears to be playing an increasingly prominent role in the province’s deepening opioid crisis, with about eight-in-10 deaths involving the deadly drug.

The percentage of 2017 deaths tied to fentanyl is up 147 per cent from this time last year.

In most cases, fentanyl was combined with other illicit drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines.

According to the report, nearly 75 per cent of overdose victims were between the ages of 30 and 59. Four out of five were male.

More deaths occurred in the five days following welfare payments than in all other days of the month, with an average of six deaths per day.

Darcy said the province’s recently elected NDP government is doing what it can to help the situation by improving access to naloxone, fentanyl detection technologies and other harm-reduction resources.

“I think the fundamental issue here is that we need to start treating addiction like a health issue,” she said. “The majority of people who are living with addictions are people who are also homeless, they’re also living in poverty and we really need to be pouring on the support so that we have a pathway to hope for people.”

So far, supervised consumption or overdose prevention sites appear to be the most effective tools in slowing the rate of overdose deaths in the province.

No one has died at any of the facilities this year. The sites, however, are being used by a minority of consumers. 

The coroners service said more than 84 per cent of deaths occurred in drug users’ own homes or other private settings such as hotel rooms and rooming houses.

Darcy said the province will make an announcement Friday about how it plans to escalate its response to the overdoses crisis.