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Fentanyl overdose deaths soar in Fraser region

The B.C. Coroners Service is warning of a spike in fentanyl drug overdose deaths in the Fraser Health region.

It says 13 people died after ingesting the synthetic drug in the Fraser region in the first four months of this year, compared to 12 fentanyl-linked deaths in all of 2013 and just six in 2012.

Four of the confirmed deaths were in Surrey, three were in Langley, three more were in Maple Ridge and two were in Coquitlam.

But regional coroner Liana Wright said those numbers may soon climb.

"We have some pretty strong indications there are more deaths attributed to fentanyl since April 30th and we're just awaiting confirmation of the toxicology analysis," she said.

Wright said most of the victims injected or snorted what they believed was either heroin or oxycodone that turned out to be fentanyl.

It's a potent narcotic that's more toxic than morphine and is used in hospitals.

"We're not sure how it's making its way out into the community or if it's being produced illicitly," she said.

Although most victims were chronic addicted drug users, Wright said some could be called recreational users and she cautioned that fentanyl could be deadly on a first use.

Even handling fentanyl is risky as it can be absorbed through the skin or mucous membranes, she added.

Wright said the concentration of deaths in certain cities doesn't mean that's where the suspect drugs were purchased.

The coroners service discourages drug use but says those who engage in it should use extreme caution, preferably at a site with medical assistance nearby.

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