Northeast B.C. has second-lowest provincial illicit drug overdose death rate this year

Photo by BC Coroners Service

VICTORIA, B.C. – The BC Coroner’s Service has released the number of illicit drug overdose deaths across the province for the month of March today, which show the third-highest number ever for a single month in our province.

Provisional data shows that 120 died as a result of illicit drug use during the month of March, an average of 3.9 deaths per day. In contrast, there were 79 province-wide illicit drug-related deaths in March 2016.

Though the news is discouraging, the Northern Health Authority seems to have seen a decline in the ongoing crisis, especially in the Northeast. So far this year, there have been twelve deaths due to overdoses of illicit drugs in Northern B.C., half of those occurring last month. March also saw Northeast B.C.’s first fatal drug overdose of the year. Our region had eighteen people die of a drug overdose in 2016.

Photo by BC Coroners Service

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe noted that fentanyl appears to account for the significant increase in illicit drug overdose deaths since 2012, as the number of illicit drug overdose deaths where fentanyl is not detected has remained relatively stable since 2011. However, so far this year, Northern B.C. has yet to record a fatal fentanyl overdose, after seeing 25 last year. Of the eighteen fatal drug overdoses in Northeast B.C. last year, 12 of those had fentanyl detected in their systems. The Coroner’s Service only lists fentanyl-detected deaths from January and February of this year, due to a delay in test results confirming the presence of the drug.

Despite the good news here up north, the rate of fatal overdoses is still incredibly high across the rest of the province. “The introduction of illicit fentanyl to the illegal drug market has had devastating results, with literally scores of our community members dying in their homes across the province,” said Lapointe. “It has been just over a year since the provincial health officer’s declaration of a provincial health emergency and, while harm reduction measures now in place are reversing thousands of overdoses, long-term measures to stem this tide must include meaningful education beginning at an early age and evidence-based treatment.”