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Accidental drug overdoses in BC up 75%: coroner

Last Updated Jun 9, 2016 at 2:10 pm PDT

(Courtesy via Facebook: Vancouver Coastal Health)

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The BC Coroners Service says accidental illicit drug overdose deaths in BC were up 75 per cent between January and May compared to the same period in 2015.

The Coroners Service says 308 people have died this year. More than half of those deaths involved the use of fentanyl.

From January to May of last year, there were 176 overdose deaths.

The coroner says there has been a steady rise in the involvement of fentanyl in overdose deaths:

2012: 5%
2013: 15%
2014: 25%
2015: 31%
2016: 56%

This year, the average number of apparent illicit drug overdose deaths per month was 61.6. Last year, the monthly average was 40.3.

The coroner points out in January 2016, there were 77 overdose deaths, which is the largest number in a single month.

fentanyl deaths
(Source: gov.bc.ca)


Fears of being arrested causing people to forgo dialing 911

Police across the region acknowledge there is a problem when it comes to overdoses but in Vancouver officers don’t typically respond to those calls.

Constable Brian Montague explains why. “We want to encourage people to pick up the phone and call 911 and get the medical help they need. It’s important to us that those deaths be reduced and part of that is individuals not being worried about getting arrested.”

He adds they will go if there is a threat to paramedics or firefighters, for example, who have already responded. “I can’t think of a case where we would have attended and been more concerned about someone who has a warrant or is in possession of a small amount of drugs. Our concern is the safety of the individual that is dying and the safety of the paramedics that are trying to help them.”

Montague adds part of the issue with the increased number of overdoses in recent months is that a drug like Fentanyl, for example, is cut and sold in so many different ways.

“Drug dealers don’t look at jurisdictional boundaries. They don’t look at rules or laws. Drugs don’t have serial numbers… to trace a drug we find on the street back to its origin is extremely, extremely difficult, if not impossible.”

“The drugs change hands so frequently and so many times by the time that it gets to a street level that it’s virtually impossible to trace back. It comes in to Vancouver by land, by sea and by air. I can tell you I personally was involved in a seizure of 450 kilograms a few years back and by the time that gets sold off to individuals at the kilo-level, those kilos get sold off to people at the pound-level. And those pounds get sold off to people who work by the eight ball and by the ounce. Those ounces get sold off to the point and end up on our streets and at some point along the line, it’s cut and diluted with a number of things. One drug dealer might use something innocuous, while another uses Fentanyl because he wants to make that drug more potent and powerful. The drug that comes from one source may kill someone in community and not in another.”

He adds there are a number of educational campaigns that have been launched and says it’s hard to tell whether the numbers would be any lower or higher if the information wasn’t available.

Meantime, W-18, the other powerful substance making the rounds right now has not popped up in Vancouver, but Montague says it’s probably just a matter of time.