Drug overdose deaths surge 74 per cent so far in 2016

Coroners record 56 deaths in January and 371 for the year's first six months, fentanyl detected in 60 per cent

Drug overdose deaths are up sharply in 2016, prompting a public health emergency.

Statistics released for the first half of 2016 now show 371 people died in B.C. of illicit drug overdoses, a 74 per cent jump from the same period of 2015.

Fentanyl was detected in about 60 per cent of the deaths for which testing has been performed, up from a 31 per cent detection rate for the powerful opioid in 2015.

And the B.C. Coroners Service says fentanyl-linked deaths that were in past years mainly concentrated in the Lower Mainland are now regularly happening throughout B.C.

On Vancouver Island and in the southern Interior, more deaths tied to fentanyl have been detected so far in 2016 than in all of 2015.

Cities with 10 or more fentanyl-related deaths so far this year include Vancouver (29), Surrey (22), Victoria (19), Nanaimo (13), Kelowna (12) and Maple Ridge (10).

The largest numbers of total illicit drug deaths for the first six months of 2016 have been recorded in Vancouver (69), Surrey (44), Victoria (29), Kamloops (22), Kelowna (19), Abbotsford(16) and Nanaimo and Maple Ridge, both with 15.

The Fraser health region accounted for 114 deaths or 30 per cent of the provincial total.

More than 30 per cent of deaths happened in the Fraser health region, which accounted for 114 deaths or 30 per cent of the provincial total.

While the 56 new overdose deaths recorded B.C.-wide in June was down slightly from this year’s worst months of January through April, the new number was still very high by historical standards.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe urged extreme caution for those using illegal drugs, as well as immediate action to aid anyone overdosing, including the use of naloxone, which is available in take-home kits that can quickly prevent an overdose from becoming fatal.

Drug deaths were declared a public health emergency in B.C. in April, and anxiety has grown with the arrival of emerging street drugs like W-18, which is considered much riskier even than fentanyl.

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