Following a record-setting year in 2020 for drug overdose deaths in B.C., numbers stayed high in the first month of 2021.
In January, the BC Coroners Service reports there were 165 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths, which marks the largest number of lives lost in B.C. during the first month of a calendar year.
An average of 5.3 lives were lost each day in January due to the toxic drug supply – a death rate of 38.1 per 100,000 residents.
January 2021 also marks the 10th consecutive month in which more than 100 deaths were attributed to illicit drug toxicity.
“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.”
The coroners service says that men accounted for 83 per cent of the overdose deaths in January. As for cities, Victoria ranked in the top three townships in the province experiencing the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths, behind Vancouver and Surrey.
Vancouver, Surrey, and Victoria.
The BC Coroners Service says that nearly one in five of the suspected deaths (18%) in January noted extreme levels of fentanyl concentrations, which is the largest number recorded to date.
The service adds that there were 14 deaths in which carfentanil – described as a more lethal analogue of fentanyl – was detected. This marks an increase from the December total of nine and the largest monthly figure since May 2019.
“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.”
The BC Corners Service says that the 165 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths in January 2021 represent a 104 per cent increase over the number of deaths in January 2020, which was 81.
It also marks a 7 per cent increase in the number of deaths in December 2020, which was 154.
“Stigma is driving people to use alone, and the pandemic is pushing people further into isolation. We stepped up our response to these emergencies as quickly as possible in B.C., but the effects of the pandemic on the illicit drug supply chain have made drugs dramatically more toxic than a year ago and, tragically, more lethal. We know people are hurting now and we have to do more to stop this terrible surge in overdose deaths,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.
“I am committed to finding even more ways to support and separate people from the poisoned drug supply. Addressing mental health and addictions is a priority of the B.C. government, and we are resolved to continue our work to add more treatment and recovery options, more services and supports for communities throughout B.C., and to work with the federal government to move forward on decriminalization.”
The government added that over the course of the month, no deaths were reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.