July ties dubious record for drug deaths in B.C., as overdose crisis continues

July ties dubious record for drug deaths in B.C., as overdose crisis continues

A new report from British Columbia’s coroner says suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths in July were the second-highest ever recorded in a single month in the province.

The findings show deaths reached 184 in July, which tied with those in January 2021 and fell just behind June 2020 when 186 people died.

“The deaths of another 184 of our community members in July is a stark reminder of the tragic and unrelenting trajectory of this public health emergency,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner. “We know that the loss of each of these individuals leaves a devastated circle of family and friends who are grieving the preventable death of a cherished loved one.”

The report comes less than a month after chief coroner Lapointe said January to June was the deadliest ever for drug toxicity in B.C.

With data from July added, the report says the 1,204 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths are the highest ever in the first seven months of a year — 28 per cent above the same period last year.

The number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in July 2021 equates to about 5.9 deaths per day.

Lapointe says an average of almost six people died every day in July, with 72 per cent between the ages of 30 and 59, while men accounted for nearly 80 per cent of the total fatalities.

Deaths involving fentanyl stayed at 86 per cent, unchanged from 2020, but the report says deaths linked to extreme fentanyl concentrations jumped to 13 per cent from eight per cent.

The ultrapowerful opioid carfentanil was detected in 113 deaths this year, compared with 65 over the same period last year.

When Lapointe released her last report in August, covering drug toxicity deaths over the first half of the year, she said it was “tremendously frustrating” to see the lack of significant progress in stemming fatalities.

“Clearly, the scale of this public health emergency requires an urgent, co-ordinated and multi-faceted health-system response,” Lapointe said. “Those at risk of dying come from all walks of life and live in every part of our province. If we truly want to save lives, an accessible range of solutions that reflects the breadth and scope of this crisis is urgently needed. This would include drug-checking services, safe consumption sites, meaningful access to life-saving safe supply and the implementation of evidence-based standards of practice for the treatment of problematic substance use. The heartbreak being experienced by another five or six more families in our province each and every day cannot continue.”

The new report says Vancouver Coastal Health and Northern Health have the highest rates of drug toxicity deaths with 47 and 46 deaths respectively per 100,000 population, while the overall rate is 40 deaths per 100,000 residents.

Communities with the highest rates include Merritt, Powell River, Enderby, Peace River South, and Hope, says the report.

Most overdoses in 2021 have been indoors, in private homes, while data show 15 per cent have happened outside in vehicles, parks, sidewalks or streets.

The report outlines that no deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.

Deaths due to drug toxicity remain the leading cause of unnatural death in B.C., says the government.

With files to the Canadian Press.


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