Island Health saw record drug overdose deaths in 2020

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Island Health reported 263 overdose deaths in 2020 — a 63 per cent increase over the year before. The province as a whole recorded 1,716 deaths, its worst year by far, according to the BC Coroners Service report.

“One of the most insidious impacts of the pandemic has been increased toxicity due to disruption in the supply chain for illicit drugs across the country,” said Sheila Malcolmson, minister of mental health and addictions. “We stepped up our response to this emergency in B.C., but the illicit drug supply is dramatically more toxic than a year ago – and tragically, more lethal.”

Fatal overdoses are on a downward trend in the Island Health region — there were 10 deaths in December after a peak of 40 in May. All other health regions remain at high rates, the report said.

The central Vancouver Island region recorded 97 deaths, up from 63 in 2019, while Nanaimo saw 39, an increase of 12 in the past year.

The report said 69 per cent of the fatal overdoses were people age 30 – 59 and men accounted for 81 per cent of deaths in 2020.

The vast majority (84 per cent) of overdose deaths happened indoors — over half were in private residence and just under one third were in other residences, such as supportive housing and shelters. No deaths were reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites, according to the report. Fentanyl was detected in 84 per cent of fatal overdoses in B.C.

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