Drug toxicity deaths in B.C. reach almost 600 in first three months of 2023

Drug toxicity deaths in B.C. reach almost 600 in first three months of 2023
On the seventh anniversary of the public health emergency being declared, a memorial was set up for those lost to the drug poisoning crisis.

In the first three months of 2023, 596 people have died in B.C. due to drug toxicity and an unregulated supply of drugs.

This news comes four days after the province marked the seventh anniversary of the public health emergency being declared due to the number of people dying of drug poisoning.

“On April 14, we once again observed the anniversary of the longest public-health emergency in our province’s history,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner in a news release.

“Since the emergency was first declared, more than 11,000 people have lost their lives due to the unregulated drug supply. This is a crisis of incomprehensible scale, and I extend my deepest condolences to everyone who has experienced the loss of someone they loved.”

In March, 197 people are believed to have died due to toxic drugs, which amounts to an average of 6.4 deaths per day.

The numbers for 2022 have also been updated to a total of 2,314 deaths for the whole year, which now makes it the deadliest year on record, passing 2021 where 2,306 people died.

In the province, Vancouver, Surrey and Greater Victoria have the highest number of deaths in 2023. Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health had the most deaths by health authority, followed by Island Health.

“It is clear that an urgent response to this crisis is required and overdue,” Lapointe said.

“Recommendations made by multidisciplinary experts on two Coroners Service Death Review Panels and the Province’s Select Standing Committee on Health into the crisis support the urgent implementation of a safe, regulated supply of substances for those at risk of serious harm or death, as well as provincial standards for the provision of evidence-based treatment and recovery services, along with requirements for reporting outcomes.”

Experts have been calling for years for a safe-supply of drugs. The provincial and federal government recently decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs, but experts say without a safe supply, people will still die.

“There should not be a dichotomy between access to life-saving safer supply and access to life-saving treatment options. Tens of thousands of British Columbians remain at risk of dying from toxic drugs and we continue to experience the tragedy of six people dying every single day, as we have for the past two years,” Lapointe said.

“This is also not a crisis confined to certain neighbourhoods or certain towns. All areas of our province are immensely affected by this crisis, and collaboration, innovation and the rejection of old stereotypes and failed solutions are necessary to prevent future deaths.”

B.C.’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Jennifer Whiteside, says the government is working to build out the mental health and addictions supports in the province to address the crisis.

“There is no one-size-fits-all model, and we are continuing to build a system that provides the right care and support at the right time and place. That’s why we are making $1 billion in targeted investments through Budget 2023 to build a system of mental-health and addictions care that didn’t exist prior to 2017,” Whiteside said in a news release.

“Last week, I visited Red Fish Healing Centre – a health-care facility designed to help people with the most complex, concurrent mental-health and addiction challenges. We know the centre has already made an important impact since it first opened in 2021. That’s why we are bringing this crucial model of care to other regions of the province.”

In Island Health, 35 people died, bringing the total for the year to 116.

So far in 2023, Central Vancouver Island has had the most people die, with 53 deaths. Thirty-seven people died in South Vancouver Island, and 26 in North Vancouver Island.

Greater Victoria (133 deaths) and Greater Nanaimo (80 deaths) have the highest number of deatsh by local health area on the Island.


Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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