The number of overdose deaths in Waterloo Region hit a record high in 2017, and authorities expect it to climb even higher this year.

New data released by Waterloo Regional Police shows that there were 580 reported overdoses in the region last year. Seventy-one of them were fatal, up from 38 in 2016.

A report prepared for the police board notes that opioid activity doesn’t appear to be tied to any specific city or neighbourhood. There were 32 overdose deaths in Kitchener, 29 in Cambridge and 10 in Waterloo.

There are two main factors behind the prediction that overdoses will continue to increase in 2018.

For one thing, that would fit the pattern already seen in western provinces, where fentanyl became a concern earlier than it did in Ontario.

Additionally, police are concerned about recent discoveries of carfentanil and other opioids “hundreds of times more potent” than what has been seen locally in the past.

The Region of Waterloo is considering opening a supervised injection site in response to the increasing problem of opioid abuse. A report on the issue is expected to go to regional councillors next month.

Separately, the province announced this week that it is accepting applications from overdose prevention sites.

Like supervised injection sites, overdose prevention sites offer drug users a place to safely inject themselves and a mechanism for needle disposal.

Unlike supervised injection sites, they are temporary – existing for three to six months, with the possibility of extensions – and are less focused on referring people to other community supports.

“They are specifically focused on overdose prevention, and are not as fully integrated into other support services,” says Karen Quigley-Hobbs, the region’s director of infectious disease, dental and sexual health.

“They are one tool in the toolbox of harm reduction.”

Quigley-Hobbs said Friday that she hadn’t heard any local expressions of interest in opening overdose prevention sites, but expected that there would be some applications.

With reporting by Nicole Lampa