Drug overdose deaths decrease across B.C. for third straight month

Vancouver still has the highest rate of overdose deaths, but numbers are falling

Drug overdose deaths continue to decrease across the province, and the Vancouver numbers in particular are striking.

A B.C. Coroners Service report released Dec. 5 shows a 42 per cent drop in overdose deaths in October 2019: 69 deaths were recorded province-wide, compared to 118 during the same month last year.

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It’s the third month in a row where yearly comparisons show a steady decrease in overdose deaths: September saw a 58 per cent drop, while the August numbers fell by 31 per cent.

Men are dying overwhelmingly more so than women, with coroners statistics suggesting men account for nine out of every 10 overdose deaths. Those between the ages of 19 and 59 account for 89 per cent of overdose deaths.

Vancouver (210), Surrey (105), Victoria (48) and Abbotsford (39) experienced the highest number of overdose deaths in 2019 and account for almost half the overdose deaths in B.C.

Province-wide data suggests fentanyl was found in 85 per cent of overdose deaths this year, down two per cent from 2018.

Vancouver saw a record-setting 395 overdose deaths last year, outpacing the previous record in 2017 (375). Through 10 months this year, that number sits at 210. 

“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 news release. “The drug supply in our province is unpredictable and perilous, and the long-term impacts of drug toxicity can be severe.”

From January to October 2019, B.C. Emergency Health Services paramedics responded to more than 20,000 overdose calls around the province, an average of 64 potential overdose/poisoning calls per day in B.C.

In the Vancouver Coastal Health area, “other residences” (48 per cent) were the most common place of overdose deaths, followed by private residences (37 per cent) between 2017 and 2019. Other residences are defined as hotels, motels, rooming houses, single room occupancy hotels, shelters and social/supportive housing.

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