Data from BC Coroners Service shows an average of five people died each day from illicit drug overdose last month — there were 162 drug-related deaths in the province in October.
“This is the fifth month this year with more than 160 suspected illicit drug deaths reported to the BC Coroners Service and more than double the number of people who died as a result of a toxic drug supply in October 2019,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner.
The number of deaths from illicit drug overdoses last month represents a 116 per cent increase over the same time last year.
Lapointe said COVID-19 has created challenges for harm reduction services — this combined with extreme concentrations of illicit fentanyl have contributed to the increase in lost lives.
“The deaths are mostly preventable. We must embrace all harm reduction measures, including a safe supply. These deaths are a mother’s worst nightmare,” said Leslie McBain, chief executive officer for Moms Stop the Harm, an advocacy group aimed at changing drug policies.
The coroners service said it has seen a sustained increase of overdose deaths since March and the province has recorded eight consecutive months with over 100 deaths. Lapointe said she advocates for accessible, evidence based and accountable treatment systems for people with problematic substance use.
“We encourage clinicians to support those at risk of overdose by prescribing safe supply and reducing the numbers of lives lost to toxic substances,” she said.
The BC Coroner’s report suggests an increase in the number of overdose cases with extreme fentanyl concentration between April and October. There have been 1,386 illicit drug overdoses this year. The number of deaths in each health authority is at or near the highest monthly total ever recorded, according to the provincial government.
“This latest report shows the tragic impact this crisis is having on British Columbians, and this is a problem for all of us. 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,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer.