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Illicit drug deaths hit grim record high in the first 9 months of 2021: BC Coroners Service

Coroners service said that the death rate from illicit drug overdoses has risen to 39.4 per 100,000 residents
A used naloxone kit is seen on the sidewalk as paramedics from B.C. Ambulance respond to a drug overdose in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, June 23, 2021. Over the past several years the drug overdoses not only across British Columbia but throughout Canada have but grown. On June, 23, 2021 for instance B.C. Ambulance paramedics responded to 140 overdose calls across the province with 42 of those being just in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

The number of British Columbians dead as a result of the overdose crisis has reached 1,534 as of the end of September, according to data released by the BC Coroners Service Tuesday (Nov. 9).

The data revealed that 181 people died due to illicit drugs in August and 152 died in September. Both numbers represent record deaths for each month and are equal to about 5.5 deaths per day.

That brings the total number of drug deaths this year to 1,534 – higher than any year previous at this time and nearly 300 more than had died by the end of September last year.

The coroners service said that the death rate from illicit drug overdoses has risen to 39.4 per 100,000 residents, nearly double the rate in 2016 when a public health emergency was first declared.

Carfentanil, an analogue of fentanyl that is used in veterinary care but not humans, has been found in 137 suspected drug toxicity deaths so far this year, more than double the fatalities as in 2020.

As in previous months, men represent the majority of deaths at 79 per cent of total fatalities. The most affected age group are people between the ages of 30 and 59.

The two Lower Mainland health authorities – Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health – made up 61 per cent of fatalities and had the two highest numbers of deaths, 523 and 417, respectively.

The highest rates of deaths were in Vancouver Coastal Health with 45 deaths per 100,000 and Northern Health at 43 deaths per 100,000. By local health area, the highest rates of illicit drug deaths were in Upper Skeena, Lillooet, Merritt, North Thompson and Hope.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe lauded the province’s application to decriminalize the possession of drugs for personal use, adding that the “death rate due to toxic drugs has never been higher,” and neither has the need for a safe supply.

“Criminalizing those who use substances has done nothing to address this complex health issue and has resulted in greater suffering and marginalization. How many more deaths are we willing to accept to maintain drug policies and laws that have no basis in evidence?”

No deaths have been reported at supervised consumption sites.

In statement, Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson said that it was “heartbreaking” to see record-breaking deaths.

“My thoughts and sympathies go out to all the families who have lost a loved one,” Malcolmson said. “The drug-poisoning crisis is happening all over Canada, and is affecting communities across the country and throughout our province.”

She said that the province would announce new treatment and recovery services to support people living with addictions later on Tuesday.

READ MORE: B.C. applies to decriminalize personal possession of illicit drugs amid opioid crisis


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