The ongoing opioid overdose crisis seems to have slowed slightly, but still took the lives of 49 people across the province last month.
There were 15 overdose deaths in the Fraser Health Authority region in August, the lowest figure recorded this year. (January was the most deadly month with 27 deaths caused by overdoses on illicit drugs in the region.)
Abbotsford has recorded the sixth most number of overdose deaths of any municipality this year, with a total of 23, two of which occurred in August.
The Fraser Health region has seen more than 35 per cent of the province’s drug deaths this year, with 172 fatalities in the last eight months.
There were 113 drug deaths in Vancouver Coastal, 93 on Vancouver Island, 80 in the Interior and 30 in the Northern health region.
The largest numbers of deaths by city have been in Vancouver (96 so far in 2016), Surrey (62), Victoria (39), Kelowna (27), Abbotsford and Kamloops (at 23 each), Maple Ridge and Nanaimo (20 each), and Langley (19).
The 488 deaths in total in B.C. so far is up 62 per cent from the same period of 2015.
The biggest increase in the rate of deaths occurred on Vancouver Island, where there was a 135 per cent increase. Vancouver Island also had the highest rate of deaths as a proportion of the population – 18.1 deaths per 100,000 people so far this year.
The 488 deaths from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31 province-wide in 2016 represent a 62 per cent increase over the same period last year.
The number of deaths from opioid overdoses was down slightly from 55 in July to 49 in August, and is well off the peak of 81 in January.
Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe noted for the first time this year, the deaths in August were down from the same month in 2015.
“Without the work that has been done to increase the availability of this antidote to opioid overdoses, I fear we would have seen many more deaths,” Lapointe said. “But no one should ever assume that the presence of naloxone at a scene will automatically mean a good outcome.”
The number of deaths where fentanyl has been detected has doubled over last year, with 60 per cent of cases involving the drug either taken alone or mixed with other illicit substances.
There have been an average of 37 fentanyl-linked overdose deaths per month this year.
The most common drug overdose combination has been cocaine mixed with fentanyl, officials said.
A multi-prong response strategy has been underway since the province declared a public health emergency in April and created a dedicated task force in July.
In the latest move, the health ministry approved a request to deregulate and unschedule naloxone, allowing the life-saving overdose treatment to be sold at more locations.
Work continues to try to block fentanyl production and distribution, increase harm-reduction options and increase the number of addiction recovery beds.
More than 2,100 no-charge take-home naloxone kits have been used to reverse overdoses out of more than 13,700 distributed.
Posters and now videos are being released to make recreational drug users more aware of the risks they face.
A new video features Leslie McBain, founder of the support group Moms Stop the Harm, who lost her son Jordan to an overdose.
“It can happen to anyone’s child,” McBain said. “Education and awareness are at present the best tools we have for reducing drug harms including death.”
Vancouver Coastal Health is applying to Health Canada to add more safe consumption sites in the region.
— with files from Kelvin Gawley