British Columbia

Brutal toxic-drug death toll continues in B.C., with 159 lives lost in March

The latest figures from the BC Coroners Service mean the devastating pace of over five fatalities per day continues.

There has been a total of 498 deaths in the first quarter of 2021, BC Coroners Service says

Pairs of shoes representing a life lost to a drug overdose hang on Vancouver's Burrard Street Bridge as part of 'Lost Soles: Gone Too Soon' on International Overdose Awareness day, Aug. 31, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The BC Coroners Service says 159 people in British Columbia died of toxic illicit drug deaths in March, continuing the devastating pace of over five fatalities per day.

The total number of deaths through the first three months of 2021 is 498, well above the previous first quarter high of 401 in 2017.

"Once again, we are reminded of the incredible toll that the toxic drug emergency is having on communities throughout our province," said chief coroner Lisa Lapointe.

"The illicit drug supply in British Columbia is volatile and unpredictable, and anyone using a substance from this unregulated market is vulnerable to serious injury or death."

The 159 deaths in March is 41 per cent higher than the 112 recorded in March of last year.

The coroners service says the drug supply continues to be volatile in terms of variability and toxicity, with increasing instances of carfentanil and benzodiazepines detected.

The total number of carfentanil-related deaths so far in 2021 is 48, compared to 65 for the entire year of 2020.

Benzodiazepines have been in 51 per cent of February 2021 drug samples, compared to 15 per cent of samples in July 2020.

Preliminary findings for 2021 also show:

  • 69 per cent of those dying are aged 30-59.
  • Males account for 80 per cent of deaths.
  • By health authority, the highest death rates are in Northern Health (57 deaths per 100,000 individuals) and Vancouver Coastal Health (45 per 100,000).
  • No deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.

"Stigma and criminalization are driving people to use alone and the pandemic is pushing people further into isolation," said Sheila Malcolmson, minister of mental health and addictions.

"People and communities are hurting, and we will do more to stop this terrible surge of overdose deaths."