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Nearly 7 British Columbians died a day from toxic drugs in January

Death rate now more than double what it was when emergency was declared in 2016
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A man pauses at an empty coffin after carrying it to Oppenheimer Park during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver on Saturday, August 15, 2020. In January 2023, at least 211 British Columbians died from toxic drugs, according to the BC Coroners Service. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Two kids and 209 adults died as a result of the unregulated, toxic drug supply in B.C. in January.

The BC Coroners Service says preliminary data from the month shows an average of 6.8 people died every day.

It’s a number similar to that of 2022, but far exceeding the number of fatalities B.C. saw back in 2016 when the provincial government first declared a public health emergency.

Then, about 20.5 out of 100,000 people were dying each month. Since then, the rate has more than doubled to 47 people per 100,000.

“It is estimated that there are more than 80,000 people in our province with opioid use disorder. Thousands of others regularly use stimulants such as cocaine. All of these members of our communities are currently at risk of sudden death,” Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said in a release of January’s report Tuesday (March 7).

The latest data shows several continued trends: The largest number of people dying (69 per cent) are between ages 30 and 59; men are far more susceptible than woman (77 versus 23 per cent); and the greatest number of deaths are in urban centres, but the highest rates of death are often in more rural areas.

An expedited toxicology report shows fentanyl was likely present in 87 per cent of illicit drug toxicity deaths in January, slightly higher than the 84 per cent recorded over the entirety of 2022. Stimulants, such as cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA, were present in 70.5 per cent of deaths, and other opioids were present in 21.2 per cent.

Two deaths have occurred at overdose prevention sites since the BC Coroners Service started tracking things, one in 2022 and one in 2023. The service says there is no indication that prescribed safe supply is contributing to fatalities.

Lapointe called the deaths “heart-breaking” in a statement Tuesday and said each of them was a preventable loss of life. She said she’s hopeful recent announcements from the province will finally respond to recommendations from her and other experts that a continuum of care is necessary, including treatment options, access to safer supply and harm-reduction tools.

The B.C. NDP committed close to $1 billion over three years in its 2023-24 budget released Feb. 28. The province is also just over a month into a three-year decriminalization pilot project.

Since the province announced the toxic drug crisis a public health emergency in April 2016, at least 11,195 people have died.

READ ALSO: ‘Quite remarkable’: B.C. commits close to $1 billion for mental health, addictions


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About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media.
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