VANCOUVER - British Columbia reached a new peak of 914 illicit drug overdose deaths last year with the persistence of the deadly opioid fentanyl.
The figure is almost 80 per cent higher than the 510 overdose deaths due to illicit drugs in 2015. In the province's interior there's been an increase of 147 per cent over last year. The Interior Health Authority recorded 156 deaths in 2016, compared to 63 in 2015.
The B.C. Coroners Service says December was the worst month with 142 deaths, the highest ever recovered in a month. The interior saw the year end spike as well with 29 deaths in the local health authority in December, 10 more than any other month.
Kelowna and Kamloops were the fourth and fifth most common locations of overdose deaths in B.C. last year; 48 people died in Kelowna, while 40 died in Kamloops. In Kamloops that’s more than the previous five years combined. Vernon saw 13 deaths throughout the year, as well.
The interior’s overdose death rate cracked 21 per 100,000 people last year; 2015 had been the recent high point at 8.5. That was the second highest rate after Vancouver. Provincially the rate for 2016 was 19.3 and has been trending up every month since August.
Deaths have been primarily men and with nearly half aged 30 to 49, according to the report.
While deaths have skyrocketed this year, none have happened at safe consumption sites in Vancouver or recently opened overdose prevention sites, according to a government press release. Interior Health is currently appliying for mobile safe consumption sites for Kelowna and Kamloops.
The government also announced today $16 million in new funding towards addictions treatment services, including new treatment beds, outpatient services and financial aid for addiction medication. The new services are expected to open in the spring.
B.C.'s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe says drug users also need to be extremly cautious when using illicit substances. For those who are addicted, she advises to at least have someone sober around with a naloxone kit. For those who aren't addicted, she says the risks are still high.
"For those who are not drug dependent, we strongly advise you to avoid experimentation and the casual use of illicit drugs," she says in a press release. "The risks are now unmanageable."
For more information about fentanyl, click here.
— With files from Canadian Press.
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