Another record set for fatalities from illicit drugs in B.C.

Provincial monthly drug deaths see dramatic rise

British Columbia has once again set a record for monthly illicit drug toxicity deaths.

In October, the province recorded 201 deaths, bringing the yearly total to 1,782, which is the highest number of fatalities recorded in a calendar year.

In a media release, B.C.’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said it is a "heart-rending" day for the province.

"The deaths of more than 200 of our community members in one month due to toxic drugs is a devastating loss,” she said. “In the sixth year of this public health emergency. We are experiencing a record loss of life and I know this news will resonate with tremendous sadness amongst the thousands of families who have lost a loved one to this crisis.”

Kelowna has already recorded 60 drug related deaths this year, just one less than the 61 in all of 2020.

The Okanagan saw 23 deaths in October, bringing the total to 143.

Interior Health had 43 fatalities in October, with 308 so far this year.

“We don’t accept the loss of life, not even for a minute,” Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson said in a news conference, adding that while progress has been made, more can be done.

“We’ve been making historic investments into the mental health and addiction system in our province, we are swimming against a rising tide of need,” she said. “The increased toxicity of the illicit street drugs has outpaced the historic rate of expansion of our addictions care system is tragic. It weighs on all of us every day. It just makes us more determined to do more, and to do it more quickly.”

Seventy-one per cent of B.C.’s suspected drug toxicity victims this year were between the ages of 30 and 59, and 79 per cent were men.

Illicit drug toxicity deaths in B.C. rank second only to cancer in terms of years of life lost.

Lapointe said she believes this crisis needs urgent intervention on a provincial scale that involves all levels of government.

She noted that, having witnessed the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in B.C. over the past year, it is apparent that if a safe supply were to be rolled out in the province it could be easily distributed to the communities most in need to support people and stop them from procuring and using illicit substances.

“The only way we are going to prevent [overdose] deaths is to ensure that people do not have to access the toxic drug supply,” said Lapointe. “That is the only way we are going to make a large-scale difference in a short period of time.”

Additionally, Lapointe said there needs to be more public education, mental health support, better diagnostic tools and a framework for supporting people with addiction, but again says providing access to safe supply is the most immediate action the province should be taking.

With files from Pete McIntyre/ Vernon Matters

Published 2021-12-09 by Connor Chan

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