An organizer displays a naloxone kit at Centennial Square in Victoria, B.C., on Saturday August 31, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Illicit drug deaths down, but B.C. coroner says thousands still overdose

Chief coroner Life Lapointe says province’s drug supply remains unpredictable

The number of illicit drug overdose deaths has dropped in B.C., but the coroners’ service says users need to remain cautious about an unpredictable and toxic drug supply.

The BC Coroners Service says there were 69 suspected overdoses deaths in October, a 42-per-cent decrease from those killed by illicit drugs in the same month last year.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe says while fatalities have decreased, the service knows from their health-care partners that the number of non-fatal overdoses remains high.

She says the decrease in overdose deaths is a promising trend, but the drug supply in the province remains unpredictable and the long-term impact of drug toxicity can be severe.

The coroners’ service says the crisis is far from over, pointing out that B.C. paramedics responded to more than 20,000 overdose calls between January and October this year.

The service says when paramedics respond to a potential overdose patient, that person has a 99-per-cent chance of survival.

READ MORE: Sell regulated heroin to curb B.C.’s overdose problem, report says

“This is why all partners in public health continue to stress the importance of not using alone and to call 911 if you see someone who may be experiencing adverse effects of a drug event,” Lapointe says in a statement. “We must continue to remain vigilant.”

The B.C. government declared a public health emergency in April 2016 when the number of overdose deaths jumped as the illicit opioid fentanyl began showing up in street drugs.

Statistics from the coroners’ service say fentanyl or its analogues were detected in about 85 per cent of the illicit drug deaths so far this year and it was a factor in 87 per cent of the overdose deaths last year.

The Canadian Press

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