March third-highest month for illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C.

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THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - People across the province continue to die at an alarming rate due to illicit drug overdoses, according to new numbers from the B.C. Coroners Service.

The third-highest number of illicit drug deaths in a single month was recorded in March. The Coroners Service says a total of 120 people died across the province last month due to illicit drugs, an average of nearly four deaths per day.

Compared that to March 2016, when there were 79 illicit drug-related deaths.

The largest population of the overdose deaths in 2017 continue to be individuals aged 30 to 39 and 40 to 49. The Coroners Service says men have accounted for more than 82 per cent of suspected illicit drug overdose deaths.

March's deaths follow the same pattern the Coroners Service has seen in the previous month, with 54.8 per cent of all illicit drug overdoses occurring in private residences. The rest occurred in other inside locations or outside, including in vehicles.

There were no deaths recorded at supervised consumption sites or drug overdose prevention sites.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe says illicit drug deaths not involving fentanyl have remained relatively stable since 2011.

"The introduction of illicit fentanyl to the illegal drug market has had devastating results, with literally scores of our community members dying in their homes across the province," Lapointe says in the release. "It has been just over a year since the provincial health officer's declaration of a provincial health emergency and, while harm reduction measures now in place are reversing thousands of overdoses, long-term measures to stem this tide must include meaningful education beginning at an early age and evidence-based treatment."

So far in 2017, 12 people have died in Kamloops from an illicit drug overdose, while 24 have died in Kelowna. There have been 58 illicit drug overdose deaths in the Interior Health Authority since the beginning of this year and 22 in March alone.

Several different health services delivery areas saw increases in illicit drug overdose deaths greater than 50 per cent comperd to 2016, including the Okanagan. Other than Vancouver Island, all health authorities saw more illicit drug overdose deaths last month compared to February 2017.

For more on the fentanyl crisis, go here.

For more on naloxone, go here.

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