While illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C. held steady in 2018, the rate in Kamloops spiked by more than 25 per cent — up to a record 48 from 38 the year prior.
According to numbers made public on Thursday, B.C. recorded 1,489 illicit drug overdose deaths last year.
“That is significantly more deaths than suicides, motor-vehicle deaths and homicides combined in this province,” B.C.’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said.
“Virtually everybody in this province knows somebody or knows of somebody who has been affected by this.”
Lapointe said fentanyl was detected in 85 per cent of overdose deaths in 2018. Cocaine was found in 49 per cent and amphetamines were detected in 31 per cent. Alcohol was present in 36 per cent of overdose deaths.
Forty-five per cent of those killed had pain-related medical issues, Lapointe said, and 44 per cent of them were employed.
“Males age 30 to 59 are most at risk, and most of those who die are dying at private residences and are using alone,” Lapointe said, noting 77 per cent of people who died of illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C. last year were described as “regular or chronic users” of drugs.
According to a BC Coroners Service report on overdose deaths, looking at trends in the province going back to the early 1990s, an average of about 240 people died of illicit drug overdoses annually between 1992 and 2014.
In 2015, when fentanyl was becoming more commonly found in B.C.’s drug supply, the number increased to 529, followed by 993 the following year. In 2017, the province recorded 1,487 illicit drug overdose deaths — a number almost identical to 2018’s 1,489.
“These numbers are, of course, distressing,” B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.
“What they have shown is that we’ve levelled off.”
Henry said action is needed to change the way the province approaches drug addiction — including possible decriminalization.
“We need to formalize our way of looking at this as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue,” she said.
Henry is working on a report on decriminalization which she expects to have complete as early as next month.
In Kamloops, the 48 overdose deaths recorded in 2018 are the most ever for the city.
Between 2008 and 2015, the community saw between two and 10 overdose deaths annually. In 2016, that number jumped to 44, followed by 38 the following year.
Statistics on overdose deaths in B.C. in 2018:
• In 2018, 86 per cent of fatal illicit drug overdoses occurred inside (58 per cent in private residences, 24 per cent in other residences, including social and supportive housing, single-room-occupancy hotels, shelters and hotels and four per cent in other inside locations). Twelve per cent occurred outside in vehicles, sidewalks, streets, parks, etc.
• There were no deaths at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.
• More fatal overdoses occurred during the days following income assistance payment (Wednesdays through Sundays) than all other days in 2018.
• On a per days tracking, most overdose deaths occurred on Saturdays (235), while Wednesdays had the fewest deaths (191).
• Of the 1,489 overdose deaths in 2018, only 295 were females. Males accounted for 1,194 deaths.
• As for ages of the deceased, only 17 people were in the 10-18 age range, while the largest number of deaths (386) occurred in the 30-39 age range, followed by 337 deaths in the 50-59 age range, 332 deaths in 40-49 age range, 293 deaths in the 19-29 age range and 117 deaths in the 60-69 age range. There were seven deaths in the 70-79 age range and no deaths in the 80-plus age range.
• Vancouver recorded the most overdose deaths in 2018, with 382, followed by Surrey (210), Victoria (94), Kelowna (55), Kamloops (48), Prince George (46), Burnaby (43) and Abbotsford (40).