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128 overdoses

British Columbia’s opiate overdose epidemic is only getting worse, as it hits its deadliest month on record

British Columbia just saw its deadliest month for drug overdose in 30 years

British Columbia saw 128 drug overdose deaths in November alone.

That makes November the deadliest month for drug overdoses in the last 30 years, according to the province’s chief coroner.

The number doubled the month prior, and is significantly higher than the previous record for a single month — 82 in January, 2016.

Fentanyl, the powerful opiate; and its stronger cousin, carfentanil, appear to be the main culprits, as the two drugs, which are cheap and highly potent, have poured onto the streets across the country.

“The number of deaths we’re seeing is heartbreaking.”

The numbers show no sign of abating. On one day last week, at least 11 people died in a single day, a majority of them in Vancouver.

“Despite the incredible efforts of all of those working on this crisis, the news today is not good,” said Lisa Lapointe, the province’s coroner, in a teleconference on Monday.
“Clearly, illicit drugs are becoming increasingly unpredictable and increasingly perilous,” she said. “It may be that there there is more toxic fentanyl than usual circulating or we may be seeing the terrifying possibility of carfentanil being introduced broadly in the illicit drug stream or the arrival of another particularly lethal analogue of fentanyl.”
The latest numbers bring the total number of deaths in 2016 to 755, a 70-percent increase from the same time last year last year. Fentanyl has been detected in 60 percent of the deaths, the coroner said.

The majority — almost 88 percent — occurred inside, said Lapointe, explaining that these deaths were not happening at safe injection sites, but when users were alone and unsupervised.

“I want to say very clearly to those communities that these actions will save lives.”

Earlier this year, the province declared a public health emergency and has since introduced a number of harm reduction initiatives, including overdose prevention sites, as a way of getting around federal restrictions on supervised injection facilities.

“The number of deaths we’re seeing is heartbreaking,” said Lapointe. “All of us have a part to play, and a big part is to reduce stigma around the use of illicit drugs.”

Perry Kendall, the province’s chief medical officer, said the “sobering” fatal overdose numbers for November, along with the fact that increasing amounts of naloxone — a life-saving drug that can combat overdoses — indicate that BC is experiencing the effects of fentanyl and its analogues.

Earlier this month, the province began setting up overdose fatality prevention sites in higher risk communities. At these sites, trained staff monitor people at risk of an overdose and are immediately available to administer naloxone or call 911 if necessary.

A total of 11 sites are set to open this month, and a mobile medical unit has been stationed in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

But Kendall acknowledged that the placement of these sites is “still controversial in some communities,” and spoke directly to critics, saying “I want to say very clearly to those communities that these actions will save lives.”

“They will also bring more order to communities where public injecting is a problem,” he said. “What they will not do is bring problems into these communities. Communities will already be affected.”

Cover: Photo by Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press

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