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B.C. study sheds light on opioid victims in effort to create better interventions

A project has revealed nearly 10 Canadians died each day from illicit drug overdoses between 2016 and 2018

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The first snapshots from a project aimed at giving a better picture of those at greatest risk of opioid abuse reveals that an average of nearly 10 Canadians died each day from illicit drug overdoses between 2016 and 2018.

The figure comes from what will be a series of articles examining the social and economic backgrounds of overdose victims in British Columbia, where the Public Health Agency of Canada said the overdose crisis is most acute.

The data shows victims range from employed people who have never had contact with the justice, social assistance or hospital systems to those with little work history and long-term legal and social issues.

BC Coroners Service numbers included in the study reveal overdoses leaped from 293 in 2011 to 639 by 2016 and nearly three-quarters of those deaths involved men between 25 and 54.

Of those at risk, the study showed roughly one-quarter were hospitalized in the year before their deaths, more than 40 per cent visited an emergency room at least once in that time, and three-quarters of those who had contact with police for an alleged crime died within a year of that interaction.

The data is from the Opioid Project, a partnership between numerous agencies including Statistics Canada, the B.C. Ministry of Health, BC Coroners Service and several departments within the City of Surrey, including its RCMP detachment and fire department.

Surrey's high profile in the project stems from its efforts to develop a real-time overdose reporting system to rapidly respond to areas where a bad batch of drugs may be circulating.

"The preliminary information that has been released today on the Opioid Project is another example of the leading role Surrey is taking to develop meaningful strategies that will ultimately save more lives," Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum said in a news release.

The project was launched in late 2017 with the goal of sharing data to better understand what leads to opioid use and how to intervene more effectively, the news release stated.

In September, the coroners service said it had recorded more than 3,400 overdose deaths in B.C. since January 2016. The number of fatalities decreased by 27 per cent in August compared with July.

The top four drugs involved in illicit-drug deaths were fentanyl, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin.

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