A total of 1,489 people died in B.C. of suspected drug overdoses in 2018, a figure that health officials say will likely increase as ongoing investigations wrap up.
On Thursday, the B.C. Coroners Service released its latest set of data on illicit drug overdose deaths. The number of overdose deaths in 2018 edged past the 1,487 deaths recorded in 2017, though this figure could change as health officials conclude investigations of deaths recorded toward the end of the year.
Even so, chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said the rate at which people were dying continued at an “alarming rate” last year.
“The illicit drug supply is unpredictable and unmanageable, and fentanyl is now implicated in 86 per cent of overdose deaths,” she said in a news release sharing the year-end figures. According to Lapointe, the rate of overdose deaths surpasses the numbers of people dying from car crashes, homicides and suicides combined.
“Innovative and evidence-based approaches are necessary if we want to effect meaningful change and stop the dying. We need to be prepared to do things differently to save lives.”
Middle-aged men continue to be the largest demographic represented in the totals, with men accounting for 80 per cent of suspected overdose deaths and those aged 30 to 59 accounting for 71 per cent of deaths. A total of 86 per cent of deaths occur indoors, with spikes on days immediately following distribution of welfare cheques.
The number of overdose deaths in 2018 equates to about four deaths per day for the entire year. Of the 365 days of 2018, at least one death was recorded on 354 of those days.
“This latest report confirms what those on the frontline already know all too well: this crisis is not slowing down,” said Dr. Evan Wood, executive director with the B.C. Centre on Substance Use.
“If we’re going to stop overdoses from happening, we urgently need to end the harms caused by prohibition while also implementing upstream responses that address the serious health and social consequences of untreated addiction.”