New numbers are revealing a more detailed look at the nearly 3,500 people who have died of an illicit drug overdose in recent years in B.C.
The BC Coroners Service released a report on Thursday looking at 872 completed overdose death investigations between 2016 and 2017. The investigations were led by a specialized team created two years ago after a spike in overdose deaths.
The report looks at several factors, ranging from marital status and housing to the person’s employment status and industry of work.
In what health officials have called a concerning trend, roughly 45 per cent had visited a doctor for pain-related issues, and 80 per cent had contact with health services in the year before their death, the report said. About 52 per cent of those who died had a reported mental health diagnosis or showed evidence of a mental health disorder.
In 2016, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. created a set of guidelines on prescribing opioids, now mandating that doctors have to show evidence of need when prescribing more than 90 mg of morphine or equivalent. This guidelines was updated to address those with chronic pain in June this year.
According to the findings, about 14 per cent of people who fatally overdosed lived in social or single-room occupancy housing, while nine per cent were homeless. More than 60 per cent lived in a home or condo.
Roughly 44 per cent were employed, with more than half of those working in the trades and transport industry.
The report also reinforced findings already shared by the coroners service, including that more than two-thirds of illicit drug deaths happened while the person was using drugs alone and indoors and that fentanyl has been detected in more than 80 per cent of all overdose deaths.
“We know this leads to a higher risk for death with a toxic drug supply,” chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said. “We continue to urge those using substances to plan to take them in the company of someone who can provide help: administering naloxone and calling 911 for assistance.”
To this day no fatal overdoses have happened at overdose prevention and safe consumption sites.
While the report only speaks to investigations that were able to be completed by May this year, the coroners service is continuing to implement it’s Unintentional Drug Overdose Protocol. Created in August 2017, it now requires coroners to fill out a more detailed, 11-page document while responding to a suspected overdose death.
In August, the latest month in which statistics are available, 98 people died of a suspect drug overdose in B.C., bring the death toll this year to 972. In 2017, 1,452 people died.