British Columbia

B.C. records 2nd highest number of monthly overdose deaths

The announcement by the B.C. Coroners Service brought the province to 1,204 deaths for the first seven months of this year, on track to eclipse last year's record high of 1,734 deaths. 

184 deaths in July puts province at a pace to see more than 2,000 fatalities this year

A public workshop about Naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. British Columbia is on pace to eclipse 2,000 overdose deaths in 2021. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

British Columbia recorded 184 suspected overdose deaths in July, tied for the second highest monthly number in the province's history.

The announcement Wednesday by the B.C. Coroners Service brought the province to 1,204 deaths due to drug toxicity for the first seven months of this year, on track to eclipse last year's record high of 1,734. 

Vancouver recorded the highest number of overdose deaths with 46, but fatalities were recorded in all 16 health service delivery areas, in all demographics.

"These are members of our communities and they should still be with us," said Vancouver Coun. Christine Boyle. 

"We need to be doing more, and faster ... we've been hearing from advocates and activists and drug users that the current solutions aren't good enough."

In a statement, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson said "large, systemic changes" were necessary to turn the tide on the crisis. 

"The big changes we're working on will save many lives in the longer-term," she said.

"This includes more and varied services that address the root causes of addiction, decriminalization to stop the stigma against people who use drugs and a prescribed safer supply to separate people from poisoned street drugs."

Decriminalization push growing

The City of Vancouver is currently awaiting a decision by Health Canada on whether to approve an exemption to federal laws that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illegal drugs within city borders. 

Toronto is set to make a similar request, and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has also joined the advocacy efforts.

"Now that the [federal] election is over, I'm hoping we can see that move very quickly because it's life or death for hundreds of our community members," said Boyle. 

Boyle argued that municipalities had limited resources to tackle the crisis on their own without more funding and federal changes to safe supply and decriminalization policies. 

"I'm sure there are more investments that we can be putting into harm reduction and we have continued to expand those sorts of supports and services," she said.

"But the big systemic solutions that we need require provincial and federal action. Until then, we're just really trying to plug holes."

Garth Mullins, an advocate for drug users in Vancouver, said every single coroner's report on these deaths is like a failed report card on government inaction.

"She's basically giving a report card to the government of British Columbia and the government of Canada with a big F on it," Mullins said on CBC's On The Coast. 

He says he's glad the local authorities are pushing forward with decriminalization but this years-long crisis has taken a terrible toll. 

"My life is so full of ghosts. I know more people who are gone than I know who are alive," he said. "The crisis doesn't stand still and wait for government to catch up." 

With files from On The Coast


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