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Harm Reduct J. 2009 May 29;6:9. doi: 10.1186/1477-7517-6-9.

The context of illicit drug overdose deaths in British Columbia, 2006.

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  • 1British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.



Illicit drug overdose deaths (IDD) relate to individual drug dose and context of use, including use with other drugs and alcohol. IDD peaked in British Columbia (BC) in 1998 with 417 deaths, and continues to be a public health problem. The objective of this study was to examine IDD in 2006 in BC by place of residence, injury and death, decedents' age and sex and substances identified.


IDD data was obtained through the BC Coroners Office and entered into SPSS (version 14). Fisher's exact and Pearson's chi2 were used for categorical data; Mann-Whitney U-test for continuous variables. Rates were calculated using 2006 population estimates.


We identified 223 IDD in BC; 54 (24%) occurred in Vancouver. Vancouver decedents (compared to those occurring outside Vancouver) were older (mean age 43.9 vs. 39.2 years; p < 0.01) and more likely to be male (90.7% vs. 77.5%; p = 0.03). Provincially Aboriginal ethnicity was reported for 19 deaths; 13 (30.2%) of 43 females and 6 (3.3%) of 180 males (p = < 0.001).Cocaine was identified in 80.3%, opiates 59.6%, methadone 13.9%, methamphetamine/amphetamine 6.3%, and alcohol in 22.9% of deaths. Poly-substance use was common, 2 substances were identified in 43.8% and 3 or more in 34.5% of deaths. Opiates were more frequently identified in Vancouver compared to outside Vancouver (74.1% vs. 55.0%) p = 0.015.


Collaboration with the Coroner's office allowed us to analyze IDD in detail including place of death; cocaine, opiates and poly-substance use were commonly identified. Poly-substance use should be explored further to inform public health interventions.

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