Over 1,400 B.C. residents died of suspected illicit drug overdoses in 2017

The  highest number of illicit drug overdose deaths occurred in Vancouver (358), Surrey (174) and Victoria (91)


MORE than 1,400 British Columbians died due to suspected illicit drug overdoses in 2017, according to data released on Wednesday by the BC Coroners Service.

Preliminary data indicate there were 1,422 suspected drug overdose deaths in 2017, representing a 43% increase from 2016, when there were 993 overdose deaths. There were significantly fewer deaths, however, in the last four months of 2017 (average of 96.5 deaths per month from September to December) compared with the first eight months of the year (average of 129.5 deaths per month).

“By continuing to provide timely, accurate data to the public, and policy- and decision-makers throughout the province, we’re able to support evidence-based measures to keep British Columbians safer when it comes to substance use,” said Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe. “There is no question that this is a public-health crisis that is impacting people from all walks of life, and we need to continue to work together to help reduce stigma and increase awareness and support for those at risk.”

According to preliminary data, a total of 103 suspected drug overdose deaths occurred in November 2017, down from 140 in November 2016, and a total of 99 suspected drug overdose deaths occurred in December 2017, down from 164 in December 2016. The 2017 totals will likely increase as additional analysis is completed.

Approximately 81% of the suspected illicit drug deaths to date in 2017 had fentanyl detected, up from 67% in 2016. In most cases, fentanyl was combined with other illicit drugs, most often cocaine, heroin or methamphetamines. Carfentanil has been detected in 64 suspected illicit drug overdose deaths between June and December of 2017. The majority of deaths continue to occur in private residences.

“As the coroners’ data show all too clearly, we are still in the midst of a persistent and continuing epidemic of unintentional poisoning deaths,” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall. “Through heroic and unprecedented actions, responders on the front lines are daily saving hundreds of lives. But hundreds more are still dying, most often alone and with no-one nearby to act when things go wrong. We are going to need to think more broadly, and further out of our comfort zone, to end these tragic losses.”

“Despite cautious optimism that deaths have not increased in the last four months, we cannot be complacent,” said Dr. Patricia Daly, Executive Director and Clinical Lead for the B.C. Overdose Emergency Response Centre and Chief Medical Health Officer for Vancouver Coastal Health. “In 2018, the provincial Overdose Emergency Response Centre will support communities to intensify those strategies we know can prevent overdose deaths – such as naloxone distribution, drug-checking services and outreach teams to connect people to treatment – and explore innovative strategies to reach those most at risk of death.”

Quick Facts:

  • Key trends in 2017 suspected illicit drug-overdose death cases:
    • More suspected illicit drug overdose deaths occurred during the five days following income assistance payments than in all other days of the month so far in 2017, with an average of six deaths per day;
    • Vancouver Coastal Health Authority has the highest rate of illicit drug overdose deaths at 35.9 deaths per 100,000 individuals among all health authorities, and experienced the largest increase in rate in 2017 at a 50% increase over 2016;
    • Fraser Health had the highest number (377) of illicit drug overdose deaths with fentanyl detected in 2017, followed by Vancouver Coastal Health (337) and Interior Health (200);
    • The three townships experiencing the highest number of illicit drug overdose deaths in 2017 are Vancouver (358), Surrey (174) and Victoria (91);
    • More than half of the 2017 deaths involved persons between the ages of 30 and 49 years, and individuals aged 19 to 59 years accounted for 90% of suspected illicit drug overdose deaths;
    • Approximately four out of five who died were male;
    • Almost nine out of every 10 deaths occurred indoors, including more than half in private residences;
    • The rate of illicit drug overdose deaths increased for the second consecutive year by approximately nine deaths per 100,000 to reach 30 deaths per 100,000 in 2017; and
    • No deaths occurred at any supervised consumption site or at any of the drug overdose prevention sites.