Drug crisis heightens as pandemic drags on

July 2021 was the second deadliest month on record for drug-related deaths in B.C.

  • 85 drug deaths so far in the Okanagan this year
  • Stigma still a major issue

As of the end of July, the BC Coroners Service has reported 1,204 drug toxicity deaths.

Over 180 alone died in July, making it the second-deadliest month on record for deaths of this type, following June’s 2020 count of 186.

The data saddens Celine Thompson, who worries the trajectory is heading in the wrong direction.

“The pandemic created social isolation and stress for people. More people are using, more people are using alone,” the executive director of The Bridge Youth & Family Services Society said.

The organization offers recovery and addiction services in Kelowna.

“The pandemic also disrupted the supply chain, so we have a more adulterated drug supply. It’s more toxic, more dangerous and it’s less predictable. You put all that together and these are the numbers you see.”

Thompson said despite significant investments, her organization is running out of resources to meet the demand for services, resulting in a growing waitlist.

“Unfortunately, this health emergency is demanding even more resources and even more attention than it’s currently receiving,” she said.

Since the toxic drug public health emergency was declared, the death rate in B.C. has almost doubled from 20.4 per 100,000 in 2016, to 39.7 per 100,000 in 2021.

There were 14 deaths in the Okanagan in July, and 32 across Interior Health.

Illicitly fentanyl and analogues have contributed to 87 per cent of all illicit drug toxicity deaths since 2018.

Thompson said when it comes to the stigma, there is still a long way to go.

“People are dying alone. They use alone because they’re too ashamed to let people know they’re using. It makes them hold off accessing treatment and support. It makes them reluctant to use supervised consumption sites,” she said.

“Any move we can make to make people feel safe and comfortable and give them agencies so that they’re allowed to make the choices that works best for them and do it in a respectful manner.”

Deaths due to drug toxicity remain the leading cause of unnatural death in B.C.

Published 2021-10-18 by Connor Chan

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