Fentanyl was a factor in nearly half of B.C.’s illegal drug overdose deaths in the first three months of 2016, according to new statistics released by the B.C. Coroners Service.
That’s up sharply from last year, when the powerful and often deadly opiate was detected in 32 per cent of drug overdose deaths, and from 25 per cent in 2014.
A total of 256 drug overdose deaths were recorded from January to April 30, compared to 480 in all of 2015.
While Vancouver accounted for 49 drug overdose deaths so far this year, there have been large numbers in other cities – 31 in Surrey, 17 in Victoria, 15 in Nanaimo and 14 each in Kamloops and Kelowna.
Explore the data with our interactive charts below
The Fraser Health region accounted for the largest overall number of overdoses so far in 2016 – 76 up until April 30 after 171 deaths in 2015 – followed by Metro Vancouver, with 66 deaths this year.
However, more of the deaths so far this year were fentanyl-linked in Metro Vancouver.
In most cases where fentanyl was a factor, it was used in combination with other drugs.
Significant numbers of overdose deaths are also being recorded in other regions – 54 so far this year on Vancouver Island, 45 in the Interior and 28 within the Northern health region.
Three youths aged 10 to 19 are among the dead due to fentanyl so far this year, and four others in that age group died of drug overdoses that were not linked to fentanyl.
The latest statistics come a month after Provincial Health Officer Perry Kendall declared a first-ever public health emergency in B.C. to try to address the sharp rise in opioid drug overdoses.
The measure empowers more rapid collection of data from regional and provincial authorities, so overdose treatment kits can be quickly deployed to specific areas when there are new incident clusters.
Health Minister Terry Lake said Thursday he believes lives were saved in recent weeks in Kamloops as a result of authorities being able to quickly react to real-time information.