Paramedics have been responding to growing numbers of often fatal overdoses.

Paramedics have been responding to growing numbers of often fatal overdoses.

B.C. drug deaths top toll from crashes, most tied to fentanyl

308 B.C. residents have died of illicit drug overdoses so far in 2016 and more supervised use sites is one of the planned responses

New statistics show 308 B.C. residents died of illicit drug overdoses in the first four months of 2016, up 75 per cent from the 176 deaths in the same January to May period of 2015.

And the proportion of deaths tied to the synthetic drug fentanyl has climbed further to 56 per cent of the 2016 deaths so far, according to the B.C. Coroners Service.

By comparison, 31 per cent of illicit drug deaths in 2015 were linked to fentanyl, used either on its own or knowingly or unknowingly in combination with other drugs.

RELATED: A deadly mix, all too familiar

Public health officials in B.C. declared the drug deaths a public health emergency in April after 200 drug fatalities were recorded.

At the current rate, B.C. could see 750 drug deaths this year if the trend continues, said B.C. Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe.

“This is hugely significant,” she said, adding the 308 so far this year is more than the number of people who died in motor vehicle crashes last year, and the 2016 total could exceed the number of suicides in a typical year.

B.C. is averaging 62 illicit drug deaths per month so far this year. The highest number to date was 77 in January, while there were 42 in May.

Health Minister Terry Lake said that’s a tentative cause for optimism that the surge at the beginning of this year may have plateaued and might subside.

He said Vancouver Coastal Health is considering five new supervised drug consumption sites, and others are being considered in Kelowna and Kamloops by Interior Health and in Victoria by Island Health.

Lake commended the federal government’s new approach to both marijuana policy and harm reduction.

“We have seen the evidence,” Lake said. “We know that we can reduce overdose deaths. We can reduce other related harms, reduce hospitalizations and we can connect people to services once they’re ready to accept that help.”

Lake suggested many of the new supervised sites may be in a more clinical setting than the existing Insite facility in Vancouver, but said the choice of model will be up to health care professionals.

“Any politician I have talked to understands the so-called war on drugs has been a failure and we need to have different approaches.”

Lake also acknowledged B.C. has not met the demand for drug treatment beds but said the government is continuing to ramp up investment in mental health and substance abuse treatment.

The arrival in B.C. of synthetic drug W-18, which is many times more potent than fentanyl and can cause overdose or death in much smaller doses, is a new emerging concern.

A fentanyl lab being used to make knock-off heroin was raided by police in Burnaby earlier this spring and tests have since turned up traces of W-18 that investigators suspect may have reached the street.

While fentanyl is a prescription painkiller used in hospitals, W-18 was never authorized for use by Health Canada.

It’s 100 times more powerful than fentanyl, making it more profitable for drug lab operators and much riskier for users, who often believe what they are taking is heroin or Oxycontin.

W-18 has so far been very difficult to identify in toxicology testing, according to Dr. Mark Tyndall, executive director of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. He said there’s no proof it’s responsible yet for any deaths in B.C.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

On Aug. 26, 1947, a fire sparked in the lumber piles between Alberni Pacific Division sawmill and Alberni Plywood (located where Canal Waterfront Park is now). What resulted was a huge fire on Assembly Wharf One, where several buildings were gutted and stacks of lumber were burned. This photo is one of 24,000 contained in the Alberni Valley Museum’s digital archives, at https://portalberni.pastperfectonline.com. (PHOTO PN07386 COURTESY ALBERNI VALLEY MUSEUM)
LOOK BACK: 1947 fire destroys Port Alberni wharf

Take a peek into the Alberni Valley’s history with the Alberni Valley Museum

Artist Jim Holyoak’s installation “Quagmire.” Holyoak will be the first speaker for the Artist Talk Online Winter 2021 series. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
North Island College Artist Talk goes online for winter 2021

The series invites contemporary Canadian artists to speak about their professional practice

(NEWS FILE PHOTO)
City of Port Alberni, ACRD prepare for compost collection in 2021

Roadside pickup is expected to begin in the City of Port Alberni in June 2021

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

The sky above Mt. Benson in Nanaimo is illuminated by flares as search and rescuers help an injured hiker down the mountain to a waiting ambulance. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Search and Rescue)
Search plane lights up Nanaimo mountain with flares during icy rope rescue

Rescuers got injured hiker down Mt. Benson to a waiting ambulance Saturday night

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

An Uber driver’s vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

Uber said in a statement that the ruling of the justice is clear and speaks for itself

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

Most Read