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More than 1,400 people in B.C. died of overdose last year

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The overdose crisis in B.C. has reached new, devastating heights.

According to new numbers released by the B.C. Coroners Service, more than 1,400 British Columbians died of suspected overdoses in 2017.

It represents a 43 per cent increase from 2016 numbers, when there were 993 overdose deaths. The B.C. Coroners Service says in a news release that there were significantly fewer deaths in the last four months of 2017, with an average of less than 100 deaths per month from September to December.

In the first eight months of the year, there were an average of nearly 130 deaths per month.

"By continuing to provide timely, accurate data to the public, and policy- and decision-makers throughout the province, we're able to support evidence-based measures to keep British Columbians safer when it comes to substance use," chief coroner Lisa Lapointe says in the release. "There is no question that this is a public-health crisis that is impacting people from all walks of life, and we need to continue to work together to help reduce stigma and increase awareness and support for those at risk."

Preliminary data shows 103 people died of suspected overdoses in November, down from 140 in November of 2016. A total of 99 people died from suspected overdose in December, down from 164 the year previous.

According to the news release, last year's totals will likely increase as additional analysis is completed. Approximately 81 per cent of all suspected overdose deaths last year had fentanyl detected, compared to 67 per cent in 2016.

The Coroners Service says that in most cases, fentanyl was combined with other drugs, most often cocaine, heroin or methamphetamines.

Carfentanil was present in 64 suspected overdose deaths between June and December of 2017. The majority of overdose deaths continue to happen in private residences, according to the release.

"As the coroners' data show all too clearly, we are still in the midst of a persistent and continuing epidemic of unintentional poisoning deaths," provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall says in the release. "Through heroic and unprecedented actions, responders on the front lines are daily saving hundreds of lives. But hundreds more are still dying, most often alone and with no-one nearby to act when things go wrong. We are going to need to think more broadly, and further out of our comfort zone, to end these tragic losses."

Dr. Patricia Daly, executive director and clinical lead for the B.C. Overdose Emergency Response Centre, and chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, says in the release that although the deaths haven't increased in the last four months, health officials need to be cautiously optimistic, and not be complacent.

Numbers show there were 200 suspected overdose deaths with fentanyl detected in the Interior Health Authority last year.

Approximately 39 people died of suspected overdoses in Kamloops last year, down from 44 deaths in 2016. In Kelowna, 75 people died of overdoses last year compared to 47 the year before.

Numbers for Penticton and Vernon were not provided.

More than half of last year's deaths involved people between 30 and 49 years old, and people between 19 and 59 years old accounted for 90 per cent of suspected overdose deaths.

Almost nine out of every 10 fatal overdoses are occurring indoors and more than half are occurring in private residences.

— This story was updated at 2:23 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018 to correct the number of overdoses within Interior Health communities.

To contact a reporter for this story, email John McDonald or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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