Nearly 4,000 Canadians died of opioid overdoses in 2017: Health Canada

More than one-third of deaths were in B.C.

The overdose epidemic claimed nearly 4,000 lives in 2017, according to new figures released by Health Canada.

A Tuesday report from the federal government found that 3,987 people died as a result of opioid overdoses across the country. It’s a 34-per-cent increase since 2016, when 2,978 people died as a result of overdose.

About 1,422 people, or about one-third, of those who died last year in Canada were in B.C. Ontario was second with 1,263 deaths, while Alberta was third with 759.

B.C. also had the highest rate of deaths, with overdoses claiming 30.5 lives per 100,000.

Canada-wide, nearly four out of five killed were men, with the deadliest age group bring 30 to 39 years old.

Men were overwhelmingly the most likely to fatally overdose across most provinces. Only in Saskatchewan were male and female rates of overdose similar, at 56 per cent and 44 per cent, respectively.

Health Canada ruled that 92 per cent of deaths were accidental and four per cent were suicides. The remaining four per cent were considered undetermined.

Fentanyl, a painkiller much more potent than heroin and cocaine, was present in 72 per cent of fatal overdoses in 2017, up from 55 per cent in 2016.

READ MORE: Fentanyl trafficking presents new challenges for police, experts say

B.C., Ontario and Alberta all had fentanyl-related deaths make up more than half of their overdose figures.

The B.C. Centre on Substance Use has called for the government to look at decriminalizing currently illegal drugs.

Speaking with Black Press Media earlier this spring, federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said despite the crisis, legalizing or decriminalizing opioids is off the table.

“By decriminalizing drugs, we’re certainly not going to fix the problem that’s on the streets right now,” she said.

In May, Ottawa announced that opioids dispensed in Canada will soon have to carry stickers that warn the drugs can cause dependence, addiction and overdoses.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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