Illicit drug overdose death numbers set a new record

Haider Nayani/ November 7th, 2019

Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria saw the highest number of illicit drug overdoses of any townships

Drug overdose deaths in BC broke new highs during 2018, though barely.

There were 1,489 deaths due to suspected illicit drug overdoses this past year. This is 2 more than in 2017, and the number could increase as investigations conclude.

The report from the BC Coroners Service also notes that the number of overdose deaths in which fentanyl was a factor grew by 3%. This means illicit fentanyl was a contributor to 85% of all overdose deaths.

The majority of victims were in between the 30-59 and male.

This was not a record Jeremy Hunka of Union Gospel Mission was looking forward to breaking.

“We hoped the 2018 total numbers would go down last year, but sadly we’re not surprised they remain similar. The overdose crisis is taking a devastating toll on our community and we’re losing people every week – valuable people who mean the world to us.” Jeremy Hunka, Senior Public Relations Specialist, Union Gospel Mission

The numbers come on the heels of St Paul’s hospital announcing a pilot program where they will provide opioid overdose victims pre-prepared packs of Suboxone. Suboxone helps stave off cravings and withdrawal symptoms from opioid use.

The goal is to not only treat an overdose, but treat the addiction itself. In a press release the hospital’s addiction specialist Dr. Keith Ahamad said that “many of these patients are not coming to the hospital to seek addiction treatment, necessarily. If we can get them to try treatment, build trust, and understand that we see this as a health issue, that is a huge step forward.”

For Hunka, opioid use must be tackled from a variety of directions.

“One of the key actions needs to be taken on by society as a whole: we need to crush stigma. The majority of overdose victims currently choose to use drugs alone, because they fear they’ll be judged and criticized if they admit they have a problem or ask someone to look out for them while they’re using. This means that they die alone, without anyone nearby to call first responders.” – Jeremy Hunka, Senior Public Relations Specialist, Union Gospel Mission

As seen below, there wasn’t a single month with less than 100 deaths during 2018.

The overall number of illicit overdose deaths in 2018 translates to approximately 4 per day.