12/29/2017 05:27 EST | Updated 12/29/2017 05:40 EST

New Brunswick opioids death toll at 19 through September, health officials say

FREDERICTON — At least 19 people in New Brunswick died from opioid overdoses during the first nine months of 2017, and that number is expected to climb as coroner investigations continue.

A new report from provincial health officials says there were 17 opioid overdose deaths between January and June and two between July and September.

Five of the deaths are believed to be linked to fentanyl, a powerful opioid that has claimed hundreds of lives across Canada this year.

The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that the national death toll from opioids could surpass 4,000 this year, far higher than last year's total of 2,861 deaths.

In 2016, there were 32 apparent opioid overdose deaths in New Brunswick, including four related to fentanyl.

The report also shows that paramedics are increasingly using the drug naloxone, which can counteract opioid overdoses.

Ambulance New Brunswick administered naloxone 214 times in the first nine months of this year, with 114 patients responding to the antidote.

That's up from 121 uses of naloxone in all of 2016, to which 70 patients responded.

The report says a recent policy change for naloxone included an increase in dosage and repeat doses.

Earlier this month, New Brunswick announced new resources to address opioid misuse in the province, including the hiring of an epidemiologist to track opioid-related overdoses.

The announcement came a week after health officials revealed that carfentanil — a drug about 100 times more powerful than fentanyl — was found in the system of a person who died recently in southern New Brunswick.