Cocaine Is Detected in Almost Half of BC Fentanyl Overdose Deaths

Fentanyl related deaths have increased 222 percent in 2016.
September 21, 2016, 9:33pm

Looks like cocaine…? Photo via Flickr user Valerie Everett.

Weeks after nine British Columbians overdosed in a 20-minute span after taking what they thought was cocaine, the province's chief coroner released new stats today that show coke is detected in a significant amount of fentanyl deaths—more than any other recreational drug.

"There is little good news to share," BC's chief coroner Lisa Lapointe told media Wednesday afternoon. "We still see fentanyl taking an exceptionally high toll."


As of August 31, 488 people have died from drug overdoses in the province, up 61.6 percent over this time last year. Fentanyl has been found in 264 overdose deaths between January and the end of July, a 222 percent increase over the same period last year.

Fentanyl is a super-potent synthetic opioid many times stronger than heroin, and roughly 100 times stronger than morphine. While it was previously known to be cut into other opiates and painkillers like heroin and Oxycontin, recent spates of overdoses in Delta and Surrey suggest it's showing up in other party drugs. In July, 36 people overdosed in a 48-hour period in Surrey.

In 96 percent of this year's fentanyl deaths, coroners found other recreational substances. Cocaine was the most commonly-mixed drug, found in 46 percent of fentanyl deaths. That's more than heroin, which was found in just 30 percent of the deaths. Ethyl alcohol and meth were also found to be mixed with fentanyl.

Casual users aren't expecting their party drugs to be cut with a super-potent opiate, and they generally aren't prepared to deal with an opiate overdose. The province announced a new awareness campaign to warn people that "no one is immune."

Read More: It's Never Been Less Safe to Try Out Drugs

The province also deregulated the emergency opiate-blocking antidote naloxone, so it can be sold outside pharmacies, and without a prescription.

"We know from our health and public safety partners that many deaths are being prevented through the use of naloxone," said Lapointe. "Without the work that has been done to increase the availability of this antidote to opioid overdoses, I fear we would have seen many more deaths. But no one should ever assume that the presence of naloxone at a scene will automatically mean a good outcome."

Follow Sarah Berman on Twitter.