Hundreds of people are dying across our province as a result of illicit drug overdoses. Information gathered from coroners’ investigations continues to signal a significant increase in illicit drug overdose deaths, with 780 lives lost already this year. That’s almost double the number of deaths in 2016, which recorded the highest number of illicit drug deaths ever. We are losing loved and valued members of our communities at a tragic rate.

Our investigations show about 90 percent of illicit drug overdose deaths occur inside, including more than half in private residences — in many cases, in a bedroom or bathroom while others were in the home but unaware. In other cases, people misinterpreted overdose symptoms as a deep sleep and, as a result, didn’t summon emergency help.

It’s imperative that anyone using illicit drugs use them in the presence of someone who is aware of overdose symptoms and is willing and able to provide medical assistance and call for help. New federal legislation provides immunity from simple possession charges for those who call 9-1-1. If someone close to you uses illicit drugs, consider obtaining a naloxone kit and relevant training from a pharmacist. In addition, 20 overdose prevention sites are open in the province, saving lives with medical assistance on-site for those using illicit drugs. If you know someone who uses illicit drugs, encourage them to reduce their risk by using at an overdose prevention site.

Coroners Service creates special drug investigation team

The Coroners Service Drug-Death Investigation Team and our research unit are working hard to identify patterns and trends to help determine who may be most at risk and where efforts and interventions can be made to prevent future deaths. In some situations, drugs purchased from a “reliable” source contained unpredictable substances like fentanyl, cocaine, heroin, methamphetaimes, and MDMA (ecstasy).

We’re also exploring whether those dying had previous overdose experiences, sought drug treatment programs, or had other physical or mental health concerns. Information is essential to formulating evidence-based solutions to the overdose crisis.

Those who become drug-dependent arrive there for a multitude of reasons. Their dependency makes them vulnerable on numerous fronts. As coroners, our goal is to support efforts that save lives. We want to reduce the terrible loss of lives and the heartbreak being experienced on a daily basis by families across our province.