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Illicit drugs claimed 120 lives in BC this March

Nearly 4 people died of fatal overdoses every day this March, according to the BC Coroner’s Office.

Provisional numbers show 120 people lost their lives last month – compared to 79 in March of 2016. That number will likely increase in the future. February’s death toll was adjusted to 108 from 102 in this month’s release from the Coroner’s Office.

The death toll for the first quarter of 2017 is now above 300. Most of the fatal overdoses happened to people between the age of 30 and 49. More than 80% were men and more than half were alone when they died.

As in previous months, no fatal overdoses occurred at any of the province’s supervised consumption or overdose prevention sites.

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In northern BC, 12 people have lost their lives to fatal overdoses so far this year. Half of those happened last month with only one fatal overdose recorded in January. There have been five fatal overdoses in Prince George so far this year.

The province’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe believes fentanyl may be to blame for the spike in overdose deaths since 2012. She says the number of overdose related deaths where fentanyl is not detected have remained about the same since 2011.

Lapointe says, while harm reduction measures are helping, long term interventions – including evidence based treatment options and increased education are needed.

The overdose crisis has been so severe that the Coroner’s Office has a backlog of cases for testing. This forced the office to delay releasing updates on the number of fentanyl-related overdoses until this month.

Fentanyl was detected in 139 of the 227 fatal overdoses that happened in BC in January and February of this year. That’s 61% of fatal overdoses – a 90% increase over the same time last year. However, fentanyl’s reach still seems mostly confined to the southern part of the province. The deadly substance has not been detected in any fatal overdoses cases in the Northern Health Authority so far this year.

March is now the deadliest month for illicit drug overdoses so far this year – both for the province as a whole and for northern BC.

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