2020 was B.C.’s deadliest year ever for illicit drug overdoes, coroner says

2020 was B.C.'s deadliest year ever for illicit drug overdoes, coroner says
BC Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe

According to the BC Coroners Service, 2020 was B.C.’s worst year yet in terms of the number of lives lost due to illicit drug overdoses.

There were 1,716 deaths due to illicit drugs in 2020 in B.C., a 74 per cent increase over the 984 deaths recorded in 2019.

This high number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2020 is equal to about 4.7 deaths per day, which is two deaths per day higher than in 2019.

The toxic illicit drug supply in British Columbia has claimed more lives than motor-vehicle crashes, homicides, suicides and prescription-drug-related deaths combined, says the Province.

“The impacts of COVID-19 highlighted the immensely precarious situation of those experiencing problematic substance use in our province,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner. “Decades of criminalization, an increasingly toxic illicit drug market and the lack of timely access to evidence-based treatment and recovery services have resulted in the loss of thousands of lives in B.C.

The chief coroner says urgent change is needed to prevent future deaths and the resulting grief and loss of so many families.

In a press conference on Thursday, Lapointe outlined four steps to help stop the overdose crisis in B.C.

The first point the chief coroner brought up is that essential harm reduction services must be available, including access to Naloxone, supervised consumption sites, overdose prevention sites and drug testing sites.

Next, Lapointe says there needs to be access to safe supply, prescribed safe alternatives to those purchased from a “profit-driven” industry.

The third idea is to build a regulated, evidence-based, economically, geographically accessible system of treatment and recovery services for those battling with addiction, to make sure treatment is available when people are looking for it.

The fourth and final point brought up by the chief coroner is to end the crimination of those struggling with addiction.

In April, it will be five years since B.C. declared illicit drug deaths a public health crisis. Since then more than 7,000 people have died from a drug overdose.

For drug overdoses in B.C., 2020 was the worst year yet, and the Province says a big part of it was due to the pandemic, as COVID-19 drove people into isolation, forcing people to use drugs alone.

In 2020, 84 per cent of illicit drug toxicity deaths occurred inside, 56 per cent in private residences and 28 per cent in other residences including social and supportive housing, and 14 per cent occurred outside in vehicles, sidewalks, streets and parks.

In 2020, 69 per cent of those who died were aged 30 to 59, and males accounted for 81% of deaths.

In December 2020, 152 people died due to overdoses, a 130 per cent increase over the 66 people that died in December due to illicit drug toxicity deaths.

Victoria, Vancouver and Surrey are the communities that experienced the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2020, according to the Province.

Island Health illicit drug toxicity death rates trended downwards over the past several months in 2020, however, all other health authority rates remained high.

Fentanyl or its analogues continued to be detected in more than 80% of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2020, followed by Cocaine and methamphetamine.

No deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites, says the Province.

READ MORE: Feds provide $15M to fund 4 B.C. pilot projects looking into a safer drug supply

Rebecca LawrenceRebecca Lawrence

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