Newspaper article The Canadian Press

B.C. Overdose Death Rates Hit New High, Chief Coroner Says 'Opioid Naive' at Risk

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

B.C. Overdose Death Rates Hit New High, Chief Coroner Says 'Opioid Naive' at Risk

Article excerpt

B.C. overdose rates rise for the 'opioid naive'

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VANCOUVER - The death toll from drug overdoses is still rising in British Columbia but the chief coroner says the count would be higher if it weren't for harm prevention measures.

The coroner's service said Wednesday there were 136 suspected overdose deaths in April.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said with the number of overdose deaths at 488 so far this year, the province is on track for about 1,500 deaths in 2017, far higher than the 931 who died last year.

But she said that figure could have been as high as 5,000 deaths if prevention measures weren't taken.

The provincial government declared a public health emergency last year, prompting wider distribution of the overdose-reversal drug naloxone to the public and emergency workers. It also established almost two dozen safe consumption sites across the province.

"We know from our ambulance partners and our emergency room health-care providers that they're seeing hundreds and hundreds of people coming through, reversing the effects of overdose," Lapointe said.

Still, at an average of 4.5 deaths per day in April, the figure was almost double the number of deaths in the same month last year.

More than half of the deaths were in private homes, which Lapointe said signals many drug users are not using safe consumption sites.

B.C.'s provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, said those dying at home are not stereotypical drug users, but professionals and parents afraid to make their addiction known.

"There's a degree of stigma around dependence or use of illicit drugs, which I think prevents those people from wanting anyone else to know that they're using," he said. "It's really significant that only 10 per cent of observed overdose deaths actually happened in a public place or on the street."

While overdoses remain rampant in communities known for higher rates of addiction, Lapointe said recreational drug users are in significant danger. …

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