Lives lost to illicit drug toxicity surpasses 1,500 in first nine months of 2021

Lives lost to illicit drug toxicity surpasses 1,500 in first nine months of 2021
The Canadian Press

The BC Coroners Service is reporting that 333 lives were lost to suspected illicit drug toxicity in August and September 2021, bringing the total number of deaths in the province so far this year to 1,534.

The 1,534 cumulative deaths in 2021 are the most in the first nine months of a calendar year, according to the data from the BC Coroners Service.

In September there was a total of 152 suspected deaths, while in August the BC Coroners Service reported 181 deaths from illicit drug toxicity — both record highs for those months. The number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in August and September 2021 equals about 5.5 deaths per day.

When comparing the first nine months of 2021 to last year, the numbers represent a 24 per cent increase — up from 1,240 deaths recorded between January and September 2020.

The BC Coroners Service says that the province-wide death rate stands at 39.4 per 100,000 residents, nearly double the rate in 2016 when the public health emergency into substance-related harms was first declared.

“Once again, we are reporting record numbers of deaths in our province due to the toxic illicit drug supply,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner. “The tremendous loss being felt by families and communities across B.C. as they mourn loved ones lost far too soon is heartbreaking.”

September marks the 12th month in a row that there have been at least 150 deaths due to toxic illicit drugs. The service adds that an average of 170 British Columbians has been lost each month in 2021.

Fentanyl and its analogues have now been detected in 84 per cent of all illicit toxicity deaths in 2021.

In addition, carfentanil — a particularly potent analogue — was detected in 137 deaths, more than double the 65 deaths recorded in all of 2020, notes the BC Coroners Service.

“Our province is in the sixth year of this public health emergency, and the death rate due to toxic drugs has never been higher,” Lapointe said. “Urgent action on a number of fronts is required, including much broader access to safe supply, more readily available and efficient drug-checking services, and a shift from a law-enforcement focus to a health-centred approach. The Province’s application to the federal government to decriminalize possession of illicit drugs for personal use is an essential step to address the drug toxicity crisis. Criminalizing those who use substances has done nothing to address this complex health issue and has resulted in greater suffering and marginalization. How many more deaths are we willing to accept to maintain drug policies and laws that have no basis in evidence?”

Looking further into the data, 79 per cent of the suspected deaths in 2021 have been male, while 71 per cent were between 30 and 59.

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


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