More than 190 people in B.C. per month died due to toxic drugs for 13 consecutive months: coroner

For the International Overdose Awareness Day in 2022, many gathered at the B.C. legislature, calling for more action to end the crisis. (File photo)

For 13 months in a row, more than 190 people have died each month due to toxic and unregulated drugs in B.C., according to the coroner.

In July, 198 people died in B.C., making it the fourth deadliest month of 2023 so far. April had the most deaths due to unregulated drugs, with 234 deaths, followed by January with 228, then March with 213.

June had the fewest deaths, with 191.

“I am saddened to once again report that British Columbia’s toxic drug crisis shows no signs of abating,” Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner said in a news release.

“We are continuing to experience record numbers of deaths provincewide because of the toxic drug supply. The unregulated illicit market is highly unpredictable and continues to put thousands of lives at risk each month. Despite recommendations for the urgent expansion of a safer drug supply, very few have access to a stable, lower-risk alternative.”

The first seven months of 2023 make the deadliest first seven months of the year ever reported by the BC Coroners Service, with at least 1,455 deaths attributed to toxic drugs. Provincewide, there are 46.2 deaths per 100,000 residents.

Island Health is one of three health authorities with a higher death rate than previously recorded, with 52.4 deaths per 100,000 residents. Vancouver Coastal (56.7) and Interior (50.7) are the other two with record-high deaths, while Northern Health (59.8) has the highest death rate in the province.

Unregulated drug toxicity is the leading cause of death for British Columbians aged 10 to 59. Unregulated drugs account for more deaths than homicides, suicides, accidents and natural disease combined.

In 2023, 69 per cent of people who died were between the ages of 30 and 59, and 77 per cent were male.

“In just two days, we’ll recognize International Overdose Awareness Day,” Lapointe said.

“This most sombre of occasions is an important opportunity to recognize all our family members, friends, colleagues and neighbours who have been lost to unregulated drugs. While we honour their memory and grieve alongside their loved ones, we must urge decision-makers to do more to stop these preventable deaths from occurring. The critical risks and losses of life resulting from this public health emergency deserve an urgent response. We must not accept the continued loss of six lives each and every day.”

The coroner says there is no indication that safe supply is contributing to the number of drug deaths.

July 2023 saw a five per cent decrease in the number of deaths from July 2022.

Private residences are where 47 per cent of people died in 2023, with 80 per cent of all deaths occurring inside.

Island Health has had 275 people die due to toxic drugs in the first seven months of the year.

Most of the deaths in Island Health are occurring in Central Vancouver Island with 129 deaths. South Vancouver Island has the second most with 95 people who died, and North Vancouver Island where 51 people died.

Jennifer Whiteside, minister of mental health and addictions, says the province will continue to work to decrease the number of deaths due to toxic drugs.

“We hold in our hearts the memories of the 198 people lost in July in British Columbia – not as mere statistics, but as individuals who deeply matter to their loved ones and communities,” Whiteside said in a statement.

“We will continue to work relentlessly to combat this ongoing public-health emergency with a comprehensive approach that addresses both addiction and the toxic-drug supply. We are working hard to keep people safe by providing them with care and support.”

Laura Brougham

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