13 Die Across British Columbia in One Day, Fentanyl Suspected Culprit

By Zachary Siegel 12/21/16

The spike in overdose deaths continues in Vancouver where 35 people died from fentanyl overdoses last month.

EMT pushing patient to ambulance.

Last Thursday night, Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside saw a troubling spike in opioid overdoses—one of the deadliest nights the city has seen. 

In just one day, nine people died of overdoses in Vancouver, and four others died of overdoses throughout the rest of British Columbia, The Vancouver Sun reported

"Can you imagine nine people dying from any other cause in one day in our city?" Vancouver’s Chief Constable Adam Palmer asked at a press conference held the following day. "We need a longer-term strategy to help people in crisis."

Lisa Lapointe, Chief Coroner, said that tests need to be done in order to determine what was in the drugs that killed nine people in one night.

“We are not sure what has caused this very distressing spike in fatalities,” said Lapointe in a statement. “It will take detailed toxicology testing and further investigation to try to determine that.”

Though toxicology tests have yet to be completed on those who died last Thursday, officials suspect fentanyl, the super potent synthetic-opioid, is the culprit. 

Analysis of the first 10 months of overdose fatalities from illicit drugs in 2016 show 622 people died in B.C., according to The Sun. Fentanyl was detected in nearly 60% of those cases. Even more troubling for public health officials is the presence of carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer even more potent than fentanyl, that began to appear in 2016’s toxicology reports. 

Citing statistics at Friday's press conference addressing the spike in deaths, Chief Palmer said 35 people died from fentanyl overdoses in November alone. “We’re seeing a record number of overdoses in neighborhoods all over Vancouver and it’s getting worse,” said Palmer. 

Vancouver’s Mayor, Gregor Robertson, said the B.C. government must make “significant upstream investments in treatment and detox.” Waiting eight to nine days for treatment in a city where some 1,300 people use illicit opioids everyday is intolerable, the mayor added. 

At the press conference Mayor Robertson emphasized that drugs are not the only part of this problem. Dealing with poverty and treating mental health are two critical areas to be addressed, the mayor said. 

"We're not able to tread water anymore, we're losing too many people," said the mayor.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.