British Columbia

Nearly 200 people killed by toxic drugs in July, B.C. coroner says

Nearly 200 people died from illicit drug toxicity across B.C. during the month of July, marking an increase of almost a third from the previous month.

Number of deaths in 2022 approaches 1,300, the highest ever number for first 7 months of a calendar year

People embrace and grimace at a rally.
People are pictured during a rally to raise awareness and remember those who died from overdoses. organized by the Vancouver Area Network of Drugs Users in Vancouver on Aug. 31. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Nearly 200 people died from illicit drug toxicity across B.C. during the month of July, marking an increase of almost a third from the previous month.

A preliminary report from the B.C. Coroners Service on Thursday said 192 people died in July, up by more than 30 per cent from June.

The loss means nearly 1,300 people have died so far in 2022, setting a record for the first seven months of a calendar year.

"As they have for the past seven years, these numbers reflect the ever-present threat that illicit drugs pose to substance users across B.C.," said Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe.

"Whether they are chronically substance dependent or using only occasionally, all of those who access the illicit drug market are vulnerable to serious harms."

Leading cause of unnatural death in B.C.

By local health area, the highest rates of death this year have been in Lillooet, Mission, Terrace, Cariboo/Chilcotin and Powell River. Nearly 85 per cent of deaths happen inside, with more than half of those inside homes.

Illicit drug toxicity is the leading cause of unnatural death in B.C. ⁠— "second only to cancers in terms of years of life lost," the coroner said.

Lapointe said there is still an urgent need for government to provide access to safer supply across the province.

Last month, she referred to a report by a coroner death review panel examining more than 6,000 deaths from illicit drugs between August 2017 and July 2021.

The report, released in March, found the primary cause of illicit drug overdoses in the province is a combination of an increasingly toxic supply and a current policy framework that it says forces users to unregulated sources.

B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson issued a statement on Thursday's statistics saying there is "more to do."

"I am committed to continuing to expand and evolve our government's response to this public health emergency to turn the tide and save lives," the statement read.

The coroner said Thursday post-mortem toxicology analyses don't show any indication prescribed safe supply is contributing to the number of deaths.

Rural communities hit hard

The overdose continues to impact rural communities in the province. 

Kate Hodgson of the Injectable Opiate Agonist Treatment Clinic in Powell River on B.C's Sunshine Coast says service providers are overwhelmed and often feel like they're "drowning."

"Our case numbers are ever increasing. The need is becoming more and more complex," she said.

Hodgson says she and her colleagues assist hundreds of people a year, but they're still not reaching everyone.

"Those specific demographics that we haven't really solidified how best to reach are people who are employed and also using substances and people who just don't perceive health resources as being accessible to them." 

Stuart Clark with Lift Community Services, which co-ordinates the region's community action plan to fight the opioid crisis, says more resources and more attention are needed.

"It's not feeling a lot like an emergency, and it needs to start feeling like an emergency."

Clark is calling on the public to speak up about toxic drug deaths during the municipal election campaign.

With files from Kathryn Marlow and The Canadian Press


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