The BC Coroners Service has released the latest monthly report on illicit drug toxicity deaths and the data continues to paint a grim picture.
In the report released on Wednesday, the BC Coroners Service says that illicit drug toxicity deaths and fentanyl-detected drug deaths reported over the course of the month were 162.
The death toll equates to five people per day losing their lives to illicit drug overdoses.
“This is the fifth month this year with more than 160 suspected illicit drug deaths reported to the BC Coroners Service and more than double the number of people who died as a result of a toxic drug supply in October 2019,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner.
“We are continuing to see record-breaking numbers of people dying in B.C. due to an unsafe drug supply in our province, and it’s taking a toll on families and communities in this dual health emergency.”
The 162 deaths in October marks a 116% increase over the number of deaths in October 2019, which was 75, according to the BC Coroners Service.
There has been a sustained increase of illicit drug toxicity deaths since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the province as well.
According to the coroners service, the province has now recorded eight consecutive months with over 100 illicit drug toxicity deaths.
“We encourage clinicians to support those at risk of overdose by prescribing safe supply and reducing the numbers of lives lost to toxic substances. We also continue to advocate for an accessible, evidence-based and accountable treatment and recovery system for anyone experiencing problematic substance use who is seeking this medical assistance,” Lapointe said in a press release.
Health officials indicate that COVID-19 has created additional challenges, including access to key harm-reduction services and the amplification of the toxic drug supply.
“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a devastating effect on the overdose crisis in B.C.,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer. “Exacerbating this is the highly toxic drug supply that exists in our communities right now. This latest report shows the tragic impact this crisis is having on British Columbians, and this is a problem for all of us. Now more than ever, we must remove the stigma of drug use and remove the shame people feel, which keeps them from seeking help or telling friends and family.”
The post-mortem toxicology testing data published in Wednesday’s report suggests an increase in the number of cases with extreme fentanyl concentrations from April to October, compared to previous months.
In October, there were approximately 128 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths with fentanyl detected.
Between April and October of 2020, approximately 14 per cent of cases had extreme fentanyl concentrations as compared to 8 per cent from Jan 2019 to March 2020.
“The number of deaths in each health authority is at or near the highest monthly total ever recorded,” adds the BC Government in a statement.
There have been 1,386 illicit drug deaths to date in 2020 in British Columbia. Males accounted for 80 per cent of deaths in 2020 to date.
Victoria continues to be one of the townships experiencing the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2020 as well, along with Vancouver and Surrey.
“First, there is the heartbreak that we cannot see in the numbers: 162 lives extinguished, 162 circles of family and friends devastated in just this one month by the grief of losing their loved ones. What makes the deaths by toxic drug poisoning even more difficult to take in is that the deaths are mostly preventable. We must embrace all harm reduction measures, including a safe supply. These deaths are a mother’s worst nightmare,” said Leslie McBain, co-founder and chief executive officer of Moms Stop the Harm.
Last month, the BC Coroners Service reported 127 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths.