B.C. toxic drug deaths double since public health emergency declared in 2016: coroner

B.C. toxic drug deaths double since public health emergency declared in 2016: coroner
Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson speaks during a press conference in the press gallery at the Legislature in Victoria, Monday, Nov. 1, 2021. In the absence of a national policy on personal drug possession, some Canadian jurisdictions have submitted requests for exemptions from criminal penalties for those who carry small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use.

VICTORIA – Grim statistics from British Columbia’s coroner show the rate of toxic drug deaths has doubled since the province declared a public health emergency in 2016.

The BC Coroners Service recorded 192 drug-related deaths in July, a 31 per cent increase from June and equating to about 6.2 deaths per day.

The new figures show the death rate across the province this year is 42 per 100,000, twice what it was in April 2016 when the public-health emergency was declared.

The service says the highest rates of death were reported in the smaller B.C. communities of Lillooet, Mission, Terrace, Powell River and the Cariboo and Chilcotin regions.

Greater Victoria continued to be among the cities recording the highest number of toxic drug-related deaths, with 94 deaths so far in 2022, behind only Vancouver (310) and Surrey (136).

B.C. Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson says the street drug supply has grown increasingly toxic, with the concentration of fentanyl growing from about four to eight per cent in early 2020 to 23 per cent as of July this year.

She says the province is pushing to expand harm reduction services, including safe supply and overdose prevention sites, across the province and is leading the country on decriminalization of people who use drugs.

“There is more to do. I am committed to continuing to expand and evolve our government’s response to this public-health emergency to turn the tide and save lives,” Malcolmson said in a statement.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said families and communities across the province are suffering because of these sudden and tragic deaths of their loved ones.

“Whether they are chronically substance-dependent or using only occasionally, all of those who access the illicit drug market are vulnerable to serious harms.”

The province said no deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 15, 2022.

The Canadian PressThe Canadian Press

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