Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall says the increase in heroin and related overdose deaths requires rapid reporting of cases.

B.C. declares fentanyl drug overdose emergency

Overdoses involving fentanyl now up to a third of cases, as synthetic drug mixed with heroin, cocaine and marijuana

The B.C. government has declared its first-ever public health emergency to deal with the sharply rising cases of opioid drug overdoses across the province.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall said the measure will allow for rapid collection of data from health authorities and the B.C. Coroners’ Service, so overdose treatment kits can be deployed to regions where there are new clusters of outbreaks.

Overdoses have been mainly clustered in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, but cases have increased in the Okanagan and Vancouver Island as well. Kendall said there is no area of the province unaffected, and that is why he is using the authority to declare an emergency for the first time in B.C. history.

There has been a steady increase in overdoses of drugs containing fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid made in Chinese drug labs and smuggled to Canada. It has been found mixed with heroin, cocaine and even marijuana sold on the streets in B.C.

There were 474 apparent illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C. in 2015, a 30 per cent increase over 2014.

Health Minister Terry Lake said kits containing an overdose treatment called naloxone have been made available to paramedics, firefighters and police, but the alarming rise in cases means more action is needed.

“We have to do what’s needed to prevent overdoses and deaths, and what’s needed is real-time information,” Lake said. “Medical health officers need immediate access to what’s happening and where so they can deploy the necessary strategies to prevent these tragedies.”

• In Fraser Health region, the BC Coroners Service recorded 29 fentanyl-related deaths in 2014, 49 in 2015 and 19 in the first three months of 2016.

• In the Metro Health region, there were 26 fentanyl-related deaths in 2014, 47 in 2015 and 18 in the first three months of 2016.

• In the Island health region, there were 17 fentanyl-related deaths in 2014, 22 in 2015 and nine in the first three months of 2016.

• In the Interior health region, there were nine fentanyl-related deaths in 2014, 21 in 2015 and 15 in the first three months of 2016.

• In the Northern health region, there were 10 fentanyl-related deaths in 2014, 14 in 2015 and three in the first three months of 2016.