Unregulated drug supply results in deaths of 176 people in May: B.C. Coroner

Unregulated drug supply results in deaths of 176 people in May: B.C. Coroner
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The B.C. Coroner's report says only one person has died at an overdose in B.C.

The number of people who died in May decreased from the near-record amount the month before, but the B.C. Coroner says the risk from the unregulated drug supply remains high.

In May 176 people in B.C. died of drug toxicity, which amounts to about 5.7 deaths each day.

BC Coroners Service findings confirm that this public-health emergency continues to be driven by illicit fentanyl,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner.

“Expedited testing in 2023 is positive for fentanyl in almost nine out of every 10 results, nearly double the positivity rate of methamphetamine and cocaine, the next most commonly identified substances. As long as people are reliant on the profit-driven unregulated market to access the substances they need, their lives are at risk.”

READ PREVIOUS: 206 people die due to unregulated drugs in B.C. in April: B.C. Coroner

This brings the total number of deaths in 2023 to 1,018.

The coroner says unregulated drug toxicity is now the leading cause of death for people in B.C. between the ages of 10 to 59. It accounts for more deaths than homicides, suicides, accidents and natural disease combined.

“We know that young people are not immune from the extreme dangers of the unregulated drug supply,” Lapointe said.

“In responding to this health crisis, it is critically important that we heed the recommendations of experts and ensure a robust system of care that includes increased access to timely, evidence-based treatment and recovery services, and to a safer substance supply as an alternative to the toxic black market. A public-health crisis of this magnitude demands a comprehensive response that meets people where they are and provides the services they need to survive.”

RELATED: B.C. officials push back against safe supply critics and their ‘polarizing rhetoric’

Since the public health emergency was declared in April 2016, at least 12,264 British Columbians have died due to drug toxicity.

Between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2022, 1.4 per cent of the drug toxicity deaths were youth under the age of 19.

More than 70 per cent of the deaths happen within private residences, and more than half are people who are using alone.

For people who are using drugs alone, Island Health recommends:

Hydromorphone was detected in 12 people who died, and in all of those at least one other substance was found to have contributed to the death. Eight of those deaths, hydromorphone was found in low concentrations.

In Island Health, 33 people died in May, bringing the health authorities’ total for 2023 to 195 deaths.

Central Vancouver Island had the highest number of deaths with 15, on South Vancouver Island 11 people died, and seven people died on North Vancouver Island.

Greater Victoria continues to have the third most deaths due to drug toxicity, behind Vancouver and Surrey.

Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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