Paramedics have been responding to growing numbers of often fatal overdoses.

B.C. drug deaths top toll from crashes, most tied to fentanyl

308 B.C. residents have died of illicit drug overdoses so far in 2016 and more supervised use sites is one of the planned responses

New statistics show 308 B.C. residents died of illicit drug overdoses in the first four months of 2016, up 75 per cent from the 176 deaths in the same January to May period of 2015.

And the proportion of deaths tied to the synthetic drug fentanyl has climbed further to 56 per cent of the 2016 deaths so far, according to the B.C. Coroners Service.

By comparison, 31 per cent of illicit drug deaths in 2015 were linked to fentanyl, used either on its own or knowingly or unknowingly in combination with other drugs.

RELATED: A deadly mix, all too familiar

Public health officials in B.C. declared the drug deaths a public health emergency in April after 200 drug fatalities were recorded.

At the current rate, B.C. could see 750 drug deaths this year if the trend continues, said B.C. Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe.

“This is hugely significant,” she said, adding the 308 so far this year is more than the number of people who died in motor vehicle crashes last year, and the 2016 total could exceed the number of suicides in a typical year.

B.C. is averaging 62 illicit drug deaths per month so far this year. The highest number to date was 77 in January, while there were 42 in May.

Health Minister Terry Lake said that’s a tentative cause for optimism that the surge at the beginning of this year may have plateaued and might subside.

He said Vancouver Coastal Health is considering five new supervised drug consumption sites, and others are being considered in Kelowna and Kamloops by Interior Health and in Victoria by Island Health.

Lake commended the federal government’s new approach to both marijuana policy and harm reduction.

“We have seen the evidence,” Lake said. “We know that we can reduce overdose deaths. We can reduce other related harms, reduce hospitalizations and we can connect people to services once they’re ready to accept that help.”

Lake suggested many of the new supervised sites may be in a more clinical setting than the existing Insite facility in Vancouver, but said the choice of model will be up to health care professionals.

“Any politician I have talked to understands the so-called war on drugs has been a failure and we need to have different approaches.”

Lake also acknowledged B.C. has not met the demand for drug treatment beds but said the government is continuing to ramp up investment in mental health and substance abuse treatment.

The arrival in B.C. of synthetic drug W-18, which is many times more potent than fentanyl and can cause overdose or death in much smaller doses, is a new emerging concern.

A fentanyl lab being used to make knock-off heroin was raided by police in Burnaby earlier this spring and tests have since turned up traces of W-18 that investigators suspect may have reached the street.

While fentanyl is a prescription painkiller used in hospitals, W-18 was never authorized for use by Health Canada.

It’s 100 times more powerful than fentanyl, making it more profitable for drug lab operators and much riskier for users, who often believe what they are taking is heroin or Oxycontin.

W-18 has so far been very difficult to identify in toxicology testing, according to Dr. Mark Tyndall, executive director of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. He said there’s no proof it’s responsible yet for any deaths in B.C.

Just Posted

‘Police are ready’ for legal pot, say Canadian chiefs

But Canadians won’t see major policing changes as pot becomes legal

VIDEO: This is what buying legal pot in B.C. looks like

Take a look inside B.C.’s first and only legal pot shop located in Kamloops

10 things still illegal in the new age of recreational cannabis

Pot is legal – but there are still a lot of rules, and breaking some could leave you in jail

Illegal dumping pushes BC Conservation to the tipping point

Terrace office may bring violators to court to seek higher penalties

Fashion Fridays: You can never have enough shoes

Kim XO, lets you know the best online shopping tips during Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Migrants, police mass in town on Guatemala-Mexico border

Many of the more than 2,000 Hondurans in a migrant caravan trying to wend its way to the United States left spontaneously with little more than the clothes on their backs and what they could quickly throw into backpacks.

5 to start your day

Man killed in shooting at Abbotsford bank, ex-Surrey cop to appear in court after Creep Catchers sting and more

Trump: ‘Severe’ consequences if Saudis murdered Khashoggi

Pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak on Wednesday said it had obtained audio recordings of the alleged killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

Feds dead set against ‘ridiculous’ quotas to replace steel, aluminum tariffs

Donald Trump imposed the so-called Section 232 tariffs — 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum — back in June on national security grounds.

Campus brawl leads to charge against B.C. football player

Takudzwa Timothy Brandon Gandire, a 21-year-old defensive back from Vancouver, is charged with assault causing bodily harm.

Stadium vendor seen in pizza spitting video pleads guilty

The 21-year-old’s sentencing is Nov. 15. His lawyer has said he understood what he did was wrong and was remorseful.

Jury finds Calgary couple guilty in 2013 death of toddler son

Jeromie and Jennifer Clark were found guilty of criminal negligence causing death

Fed report to show $19-billion deficit in 2017-18

The deficit is slightly smaller than Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s prediction of $19.4 billion in last winter’s budget

Most Read