Pubdate: Tue, 12 Dec 2017
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Times Colonist
Author: Sarah Petrescu
Page: A4


More than 1,208 people have died from illicit drug overdoses in B.C.
this year, the coroners service reported Monday.

Victoria and Vancouver Island continue to be in the top townships and
health areas for overdose deaths.

The latest death toll in the overdose crisis includes statistics to
the end of October 2017. November and December numbers will not be
released until the new year.

"These numbers show that this is still something on the rise," said
Andy Watson of the B.C. Coroners Service. "We're cautiously optimistic
[now] that we've seen two months with under 100 deaths, but November
and December were the peaks of last year."

Nearly 200 of the overdoses deaths so far this year occurred on
Vancouver Island. The capital city continues to be in the topthree
townships for overdose deaths, with 78 deaths this year - the
equivalent to 2.5 busloads of people.

Central and North Vancouver Island were in the top-four
health-service-delivery areas, with the highest rates of overdose deaths.

Last year, 985 people died from overdoses in B.C. It was the worst
year on record until now. The overdose deaths so far this year are
more than double those reported in 2015.

Watson said the coroners service has expanded its data collecting and
formed a drug-investigations team to identify any elements that could
explain or help tackle the overdose crisis.

"For example, starting last month, the additional data showed a higher
rate of illicit-drug-overdose deaths following income-assistance
payment days," said Watson. "This has already started some important
discussions. One thing we're hoping is that policy makers look at
these numbers for ideas to best reach people."

The investigations team will release its first full report in early
2018 after collecting information such as overdose victims' medical
histories, social services accessed, employment status and income
levels to better understand those at risk of overdose.

Watson said the data continue to show that men are at greatest risk of
overdose deaths, especially those in their 30s and 40s. The majority
of overdose victims die in residences, often alone, and have multiple
illicit substances in their systems - including opioid-replacement-therapy
drugs such as methadone.

The B.C. Coroners Service said illicit fentanyl was present in 83 per
cent of the overdose deaths this year. The top-four detected drugs
relevant to illicit-drug-overdose deaths are fentanyl, cocaine,
stimulants and heroin.

Watson said one of the puzzles all levels of government are trying to
tackle is how to reach the highest-risk group of people: those who use
drugs alone and in secret.

"How do you reach this demographic of people who might be ashamed, who
don't want to be seen accessing [harm-reduction] services?" he said.

The province's new Mental Health and Addictions ministry allocated
$4.37 million for 20172019 to support public awareness and outreach.

Harm-reduction efforts are working in some areas: Not a single person
has died in an overdose-prevention or supervised-consumption site.
More than 55,000 free life-saving naloxone kits, an antidote to opioid
overdoses, have been distributed across the province, and fentanyl
testing has been expanded, along with addictions services.
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