British Columbia

5 British Columbians dying every day from overdose, coroner reports

The BC Coroners Service says 162 people died in October due to overdoses from toxic illicit drugs, making it the fifth month in 2020 where the death toll has exceeded 160, and the eighth straight month with over 100 dead.

BC Coroners Service says 162 people died in October due to overdoses from toxic illicit drugs

A man walks past a mural by street artist Smokey D. about the fentanyl and opioid overdose crisis on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver in 2016, the year B.C. declared a public health emergency. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The surge in overdose deaths in B.C. shows no sign of waning with an average of five people now dying every day, according to the latest figures from the BC Coroners Service.

In the month of October alone, 162 fatalities were connected to illicit drug toxicity and fentanyl, making it the fifth month in 2020 where the death toll has exceeded 160, and the eighth straight month with over 100 dead.

So far this year there have been 1,386 illicit drug deaths in the province. Males accounted for 80 per cent of the dead and 70 per cent were aged 30-59. 

Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said the COVID-19 pandemic is preventing people from accessing harm reduction services while also making the street drug supply more toxic than ever with "extreme concentration[s] of illicit fentanyl."

Data taken from post-mortem toxicology testing suggests the number of cases with extreme fentanyl concentrations has increased since April 2020. 

"Exacerbating this is the highly toxic drug supply that exists in our communities right now," said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

"Now more than ever, we must remove the stigma of drug use and remove the shame people feel, which keeps them from seeking help or telling friends and family."

The effects of fentanyl are clear in data tracking back almost a decade.

In 2012, fentanyl and analogues like carfentanil were seen in five per cent of illicit drug overdoses. In 2019 that number had risen to 88 per cent. 

The presence of methamphetamine in fatalities has also increased from 14 to 39 per cent over the same time period. Cocaine has steadily declined as a factor between 2012 and 2019, but it remains involved in 49 per cent of 2019 deaths.

Lapointe is urging clinicians to support people at risk of overdose by prescribing safe pharmaceutical alternatives to toxic street drugs through a provincial program that was expanded earlier this year.

B.C. declared a public health emergency in April 2016 because of an increasing number of overdose deaths.

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