Illicit drug overdoses in Prince Rupert are on the rise, with three deaths reported by the B.C. Coroners Service in the past nine years, and five already reported for 2016 from January to May.
The dramatic increase in drug overdoses in B.C. instigated — for the first time in Canada — provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, to declare a public health emergency in April.
Fentanyl, an opioid that is 100 times more toxic than morphine, heroin or oxycodone, has been to blame for the increase in overdoses. The B.C. Coroners Service reported that fentanyl was detected in 56 per cent of all deaths from January until the end of April.
Prince Rupert’s increase in drug overdoses is not necessarily following the trend. Of the five drug overdoses that were reported up until May, fentanyl was not found in four of the deaths, said Barb McLintock, a coroner at the BC Coroners Service, in an email.
One of the deaths occurred in May and there hasn’t been a full toxicology report on the individual yet to determine if fentanyl was found in the analysis.
“I think too many people these days are thinking any drug overdose is a fentanyl related case, but this is frequently not the case, especially in Northern B.C. where the spread of fentanyl appears, thankfully, to have been much slower,” she said.
The toxicology reports for the four deaths showed a variety of mixed drug overdoses — but cocaine was particularly prominent, McLintock said.
Since the declaration Dr. Kendall and chief medical health officers have been working with health authorities, first responders, emergency room staff and the Coroners Service to collect real-time data and to share findings.
On June 13, Northern Health instituted an enhanced surveillance form for all overdoses. All emergency rooms in hospitals across the north have to submit a form to the Northwest Medical Health Officer, Dr. Raina Fumerton, and her team every 24 hours.
“The better collection of data we have it can help guide better treatment options,” Dr. Fumerton said.
The shared data will also determine what is needed for labs to manage the anticipated increase in toxicology testing of patients who died from a suspected overdose. The testing will determine what drugs were used, how it was ingested and other information to help formulate a strategy to reduce cases of overdoses in the province.