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Paramedics from B.C. Ambulance respond to a drug overdose in downtown Vancouver, on June 23, 2021.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

British Columbia’s chief coroner says a recent dip in the number of overdose deaths is encouraging, but illicit toxic drugs still present enormous risks for substance users.

Lisa Lapointe says the latest overdose figures show 165 people died in March, down from 174 in February and 209 in January.

Still, figures from the coroners service show a total of 548 deaths in the first three months of the year, surpassing last year’s record, when 535 people died during that time.

Lapointe says five people are dying every day and those who survive an overdose are often left with serious long-term health challenges so expanded access to a safer supply of alternative drugs would lessen those harms.

She says 94 per cent of drug samples tested positive for fentanyl in March, while benzodiazepines, which don’t respond to the overdose-reversing medication naloxone, are increasingly being used in substances sold on the street.

British Columbia had a record number of overdose fatalities last year, when 2,236 people died.

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