Vancouver Island among highest drug death rates in B.C., but province sees 11% decrease in Feb.

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

Though the overall number of unregulated drug deaths in February has decreased from the month prior, regions in Island Health have some of the highest rates of death in B.C., according to the latest data from the coroner.

In February, 177 people died due to unregulated drugs in B.C., which is an 11 per cent decrease from Februrary 2023 and a 12 per cent decrease from January 2024.

READ PREVIOUS: 198 people died in January due to unregulated drugs: BC Coroner

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This is the 20th month in a row where more than 175 people died due to unregulated drugs, and February saw an average of 6.1 deaths per day.

In Island Health, 44 people died in February, which is the second highest number of deaths of the five health authorities. Vancouver Coastal has the highest number with 45 deaths.

The coroner service said Northern and Island Health both recorded record-high death rates in the first two months of 2024. Northern Health had a death rate of 76.7 deaths per 100,000 residents, and Island Health was at 54.3.

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Nanaimo saw the third highest number of deaths, behind Vancouver and Surrey.

January was the first time Nanaimo surpassed Victoria for the number of deaths, which had held the third-highest number of deaths spot for many years.

READ PREVIOUS: ‘Heart-wrenching’: Toxic drug crisis claims record number of lives in Nanaimo, surpassing Victoria

Two Island health service delivery areas have the second and third highest rates of unregulated deaths in B.C. Norther Interior takes the first place, then is followed by North Vancouver Island and Central Vancouver Island. Vancouver then Thompson Cariboo Shuswap take the fourth and fifth spots.

This means South Vancouver Island is the only health service delivery area on the Island that is not on that list of highest death rates.

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“The provincewide rate of death for the first two months of 2024 is 40.1 per 100,000 residents, which is below the record numbers reported in 2023 but still nearly twice the rate recorded in 2016, the year the public-health emergency was first declared,” the coroner service said in a statement.

The coroner says there continues to be no indication that prescribed safer supply is contributing to the number of unregulated drug deaths.

Laura Brougham

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