Overdoses claim another 63 B.C. lives in October

More than a third of the 622 drug deaths so far this year have happened in Fraser region

First responders work on a drug overdose victim in Surrey earlier this year.

Illicit drug overdoses claimed another 63 lives across B.C. in October, the highest monthly death toll since April.

The total deaths reported by the B.C. Coroners Service now stands at 622 for the year up to the end of October, up markedly from the 397 deaths in the same 10 months of 2015.

The powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl continues to be linked to approximately 60 per cent of fatalities this year – 332 cases in all or three times as many as the same period last year.

More than a third of the total overdose deaths this year – 211 – have happened in the Fraser Health region, compared to 147 in Vancouver Coastal, 120 on Vancouver Island and 108 in the Interior.

The top cities where deaths have occurred so far this year are Vancouver (124), Surrey (76), Victoria (51), Kelowna (37), Kamloops (31), Abbotsford (28) and Maple Ridge (24).

A multi-prong response strategy has been underway since the province declared a public health emergency in April and created a dedicated task force in July.

Efforts include making naloxone much more widely available to reverse overdoses in progress.

The strategy also aims to block fentanyl production and distribution, increase harm-reduction options, foster greater public education and increase the number of addiction recovery beds.

Officials from B.C. will attend a federal opioid conference in Ottawa starting Friday to explore strategies to counter overdose deaths. That comes a day after Premier Christy Clark leads a delegation to Ottawa to meet federal officials on other potential government actions.

Vancouver Coastal Health has applied for federal approval of two new supervised drug consumption sites, with three more in the works, while Island Health is seeking public feedback ahead of an application for sites in Victoria.