B.C. facing ‘record-breaking year’ as drug overdose deaths in November surpass 150 mark

B.C. facing 'record-breaking year' as drug overdose deaths in November surpass 150 mark
Courtesy of CBC
BC Coroners Service continues to release grim monthly stats surrounding drug overdose deaths as the province faces a record-breaking year.

The BC Coroners Service continues to release grim monthly stats surrounding drug overdose deaths across British Columbia as the numbers continue to surpass records.

On Monday morning, the BC Coroners Service revealed that November 2020 had 153 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths reported in B.C. – the ninth month in a row that the death toll has surpassed the 100 mark.

According to the BC Coroners Service, the 153 deaths marks an 89 per cent increase from November 2019 (81).

The latest data indicates that approximately five people per day are still continuing to lose their lives as a result of illicit drug overdoses – a similar rate to October, when 164 people died from illicit drug toxicity across the province.

“Tragically, as we reach the end of 2020, our province is facing a record-breaking year for lives lost due to a toxic illicit drug supply,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner. “In the five years of this public health emergency, more than 6,500 families have experienced the grief and sadness of losing a loved one to the challenging medical condition of drug addiction. I extend my sincere condolences to all of those grieving a family member, friend or colleague due to this disease.”

There have been 1,548 suspected illicit drug deaths to date in 2020 in B.C. with the data from December still outstanding. The deadliest year was set back in 2018, when there were 1,549 reported drug overdose deaths.

The coroners service says that the number of deaths in each health authority is at or near the highest ever monthly totals as well.

“The impacts of COVID-19 have been deadly for those experiencing problematic substance use,” Lapointe said.

“Ensuring access to critical harm reduction measures including naloxone, supervised consumption sites, overdose prevention sites and drug checking services are essential if we want to prevent future deaths. Providing those with substance use disorder access to pharmaceutical alternatives will be of immense benefit to reduce the harms and suffering resulting from the ‘for-profit’ illicit drug market. Additionally, as recommended by coroners’ inquest juries and death review panels, an accessible, evidence-based and accountable treatment and recovery system is desperately needed to support those seeking these supports on their path to wellness.”

There has been a sustained increase of illicit drug toxicity deaths since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the province as well.

According to the coroners service, B.C. has now recorded nine consecutive months with over 100 illicit drug toxicity deaths, including three that climbed over the 170 mark.

Toxicology results from the coroners service suggest a greater number of cases with extreme fentanyl concentrations from April to November 2020 compared with previous months as well.

In November, the province reported 118 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths with fentanyl detected.

Between April and October of 2020, approximately 13 per cent of cases had extreme fentanyl concentrations as compared to 8 per cent from Jan 2019 to March 2020.

Men have accounted for 81 per cent of the total number of suspected overdose deaths in 2020. The province adds that 70 per cent of those dying in 2020 were aged 30 to 59, however, suggests that the illicit drug toxicity death rates among individuals aged 19 to 59 have been trending downward over several months.

Victoria continues to be one of the townships experiencing the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2020 as well, along with Vancouver and Surrey.

Despite Victoria seeing high numbers, Island Health illicit drug toxicity death rates appear to be trending downward over the past several months, according to data from the BC Coroners Service.

In 2020, 55 per cent of illicit drug toxicity deaths have occurred in private residences, while the BC Coroners Service says that no deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.

Graham CoxGraham Cox

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