Overdoses in BC – a Snapshot

While there is a common perception that opioid addiction is only an issue of the homeless and ‘people on the streets,’ the facts do not support this. While many homeless people are suffering overdoses in high numbers, there is a large, more hidden demographic of working, housed people who use drugs and are also being hit hard by the crisis.

  • 76% of those who overdosed were between the ages of 19-39
  • 72% of those who overdosed were male
  • 58% of overdoses occurred in private residences
  • The three townships experiencing the highest number of illicit drug overdoses in 2018 are Vancouver, Surrey, and Victoria
  • Between 2011 and 2016, 25 per cent of those employed in BC prior to a fatal overdose worked in construction. That number is now 55 per cent.
  • There were more than 4.5 times as many illicit drug overdose deaths as motor vehicle accident deaths in 2018.
  • First Nations people are three times more likely to die due to an overdose than non-First Nations.


Opioids and fentanyl

What exactly are opioids?8 They are pain relieving drugs such as codeine, morphine, medical heroin, oxycodone, and fentanyl. Opioids can produce feelings of euphoria (feeling high) as well as being highly addictive.

In recent years, fentanyl has been the leading cause of overdose fatalities in BC. In 2018, 87% of overdose deaths involved synthetic fentanyl. Due to its high potency – 50 -100 times stronger than morphine – drug dealers often add it to recreational drugs such as 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA) known more commonly as ecstasy or molly, and cocaine to increase their strength and amplify their profits.

This makes a variety of widely used recreational substances potentially deadly to even casual users.

Opioid dependency and addiction most often stems from pain – be it physical or emotional.

  • The construction and trades industry has been particularly hard hit. The Coroners’ Investigations Report in 2018 showed that 55% of those who died of overdoses worked in construction and trades professions. Research indicates this is related to attempts at pain management following on-site injury.
  • The Indigenous community in the Province is disproportionally affected by opioid overdose and this in large part derives from a history of inter-generational trauma, marginalization, loss of cultural roots, and poverty.

Information sources:

Coroners Service – Province of British Columbia, First Nations Health Authority, Government of Canada Health Services, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Statistics Canada.