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Overdose death toll prompts warning

August 18, 2016 3:52 P.M.
Fentanyl seized by Kamloops RCMP in an organized crime investigation.

A small drop in overdose deaths last month hasn’t diminished a provincial health emergency with the B.C. Coroners Service reminding illicit drug users Thursday to exercise extreme caution.

In the first seven months of 2016 (Jan. 1 through July 31), the total number of deaths from illicit drug overdoses was 433, an increase of 73.9 percent from the same period in 2015.

The total number of overdose deaths in July was 52, down from 61 in the previous month. In Kamloops, there were no fatal overdoses noted in July and the death count has remained static at 22 so far this year. A half dozen of those were attributed to fentanyl, four more than were reported in June.

Overall in B.C., for the first six months (Jan. 1 through June 30) of 2016, 62 percent of the overdose deaths showed fentanyl was detected in toxicology tests. A check of the fentanyl-detected deaths occurring in the first five months of the year showed that in 96 percent of the cases, other illicit drugs were also present along with fentanyl. The most common drug found aside from fentanyl was cocaine.

Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe stressed the critical importance of calling 911 to obtain medical assistance immediately if someone appears to be overdosing. Drug users are also urged never to use alone and to ensure that they have a naloxone kit and someone trained to use it available every time when using.

The coroners service continues to work with health, community and law enforcement agencies and with the provincial government’s Joint Task Force on Overdose Response to try to reduce the death toll.

Health Minister Terry Lake and Public Safety and Solicitor General Minister Mike Morris have written their federal counterparts, calling on them to lead a co-ordinated, national effort to the problem, starting with changes to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and Precursor Control Regulation. 

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