A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver on Saturday, August 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver on Saturday, August 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Fentanyl toxicity rises, carfentanil deaths spike: 165 fatal overdoses in 1st month of 2021

Roughly 11 people died every two days in January

B.C.’s overdose crisis is showing no signs up letting up following a record breaking year, with roughly 11 people dying every two days in January.

That adds up to 165 overdoses from illicit drugs in the first month of the calendar year, the BC Coroners Service announced Tuesday (March 2).

“These figures are heartbreaking, both in scale and for the number of families who are grieving the loss of a loved one,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, BC Coroners Service. “In the fifth year of this public health emergency, there is virtually no community in the province that hasn’t been touched by this devastating loss of life.”

Most concerning: Many of the deaths in January involved the most deadly street drugs, of fentanyl, carfentanil and benzodiazepines.

READ MORE: With 1,716 deaths, 2020 deadliest year of overdose crisis in B.C. history

“Extreme levels” of the powerful street version of fentanyl concentrations were found through toxicology tests in almost one in five of the suspected deaths, or 18 per cent. Extreme is considered greater than 50 micrograms per litre – the largest toxicity recorded to date.

There were also 14 deaths where carfentanil was detected, which is 100 times more potent than fentanyl and used as a tranquilizer for elephants and other large animals. In 2020, 63 deaths involved illicit carfentanil.

Benzodiazepines and its analogues were detected in nearly half of all samples tested. These kinds of drugs can cause overdoses but can’t be reversed with naloxone.

“We’re particularly concerned about the toxicity of the drugs detected in many of the deaths recorded in January,” Lapointe said. “The findings suggest that the already unstable drug supply in B.C. is becoming even deadlier, underscoring the urgent need for supervised consumption options, prescribing for safe supply, and accessible treatment and recovery services.”

No deaths were reported at supervised consumption or overdose prevention sites.


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

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