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OD deaths may have surpassed 2015 total

By Eric MacKenzie

Fentanyl pills seized by police.

Fentanyl pills seized by police. POSTMEDIA

BC Coroners Service figures suggest the number of illicit-drug overdose deaths this year has already exceeded what was recorded for all of 2015.

Through the end of August, there have been 488 deaths involving illicit drugs, which is just 17 fewer than all of last year. Considering the province has seen an average of 61 deaths per month this year, it would stand to reason that overdoses in B.C. have already eclipsed the 505 from 2015.

The rate over the first eight months of 2016, at 15.5 per 100,000 people, is nearly 50% higher than what was seen last year. However, the province did see a drop in fatalities for the second straight month with 49 in August, down from 55 in July and 62 in June.

“Perhaps the best news is that for the first time this year, the total number of deaths in August was smaller than for the same month in 2015,” said chief coroner Lisa Lapointe, as there were 52 deaths in August 2015 recorded.

The Coroners Service also provided an update on fentanyl-detected deaths Wednesday, indicating that the 25 such fatalities in July marked the fewest in a single month since the beginning of 2016. Still, there were 264 deaths where fentanyl was found within a victim’s system through the end of July, which is a 222% increase compared to the first seven months of last year, and represented 60% of all illicit-drug overdose casualties.

“Police have told us fentanyl creeps into virtually every drug now on the street, and that basically all of the drugs they have tested lately have fentanyl in them. Alarming,” said Public Safety Minister Mike Morris.

B.C. is the first province to deregulate the overdose treatment naloxone.

“This is an important change — it means that health-care sites, treatment centres and community agencies can carry and sell naloxone, so it will make it more widely available,” Health Minister Terry Lake said.

Naloxone kits are now available at Richmond Hospital’s ER. More than 13,000 no-charge kits have been dispensed, said Lake, and more than 2,100 have been used to reverse overdoses.