Nearly 10,000 have died from drug overdoses in B.C. since 2016: Coroners Service

Nearly 10,000 have died from drug overdoses in B.C. since 2016: Coroners Service

The BC Coroners Service has released more grim stats surrounding drug overdoses in the province, outlining that nearly 10,000 people have died from toxicity since 2016.

Preliminary data released by the Province on Tuesday says that the toxic drug supply has claimed the lives of 9,410 over the last six years, dating back to January 2016.

The BC Coroners Service released data up until February 2022, with at least 174 lives being lost in the second month of this year.

February becomes the 17th consecutive month in which more than 150 lives were lost to illicit drugs in B.C. The 174 deaths equate to approximately 6.2 deaths per day.

The province-wide death rate in 2022 now stands at 43.5 per 100,000 residents, but rates of death in some health authorities, including Northern Health (62.7) and Vancouver Coastal (52.8), are significantly higher, notes the government.

“As we approach the sixth anniversary of the declaration of the public-health emergency into substance-related harms, we are continuing to lose members of our communities at an unprecedented and terrifying rate,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner. “The deaths of another 174 B.C. residents, so many of them young and middle-aged men with years of life ahead of them, is yet another reminder that urgent action is needed on a province-wide scale. I extend my deepest sympathy to the many families, friends and communities who are grieving the loss of a loved one.”

The data shows that while 74 per cent of decedents in 2022 were between 30 and 59 years of age, six of the lives lost in February were under the age of 19 after zero such deaths were reported in January.

Preliminary toxicological results in early 2022 provide further evidence of the inconsistency and volatility of the illicit drug supply. Fentanyl continues to be the predominant substance found in post-mortem testing. Additionally, between July 2020 and February 2022, etizolam was detected in 41 per cent of expedited testing results. The BC Coroners Service says that this benzodiazepine analogue has a highly sedating effect that cannot be reversed by naloxone and, as a result, its presence creates significant life-saving challenges for first responders.

“I recognize that the concept of safer supply is difficult for some to understand given the many decades of a punitive, enforcement-based approach to substance use,” Lapointe said. “However, unless we act quickly to provide a safe, regulated source of the drugs people are using in every community across our province, people we love will continue to be vulnerable to the profit-driven, chaotic illicit drug market. Safer supply, along with decriminalizing possession of drugs for personal use, reducing stigma and building an evidence-based system of treatment and recovery are critical components for reducing the terrible harms and fatal consequences of the toxic illicit drug market.”

The Province says that there continues to be no evidence that prescribed safer supply or diverted prescription opioids are contributing to the illicit-drug crisis in British Columbia.

Victoria continues to be one of the townships with the highest number of deaths related to drug overdoses, along with Vancouver and Surrey.

The data also outlines that 78 per cent of those dying from toxic drugs were men and 86 per cent of deaths so far in 2022 have been inside.

No deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.

Graham CoxGraham Cox

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