Island Heath region recorded 20 illicit drug toxicity deaths in January

B.C. 2020 illicit drug overdose death rates by health services delivery area || B.C. government photo
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B.C. recorded 165 illicit drug toxicity deaths in January, the highest number ever for the first month of a calendar year, according to BC Coroners Service.

The coroner’s report said 20 of those deaths were in the Island Health region, where the rate has been trending down for several months.

“We’re particularly concerned about the toxicity of the drugs detected in many of the deaths recorded in January,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner.

“The findings suggest that the already unstable drug supply in B.C. is becoming even deadlier, underscoring the urgent need for supervised consumption options, prescribing for safe supply and accessible treatment and recovery services.”

An average of 5.3 lives were lost each day in January due to the toxic drug supply in B.C. Males accounted for 83 per cent of the deaths and 70 per cent of illicit drug toxicity deaths were people between the ages of 30 and 59, according to the report.

“We stepped up our response to these emergencies as quickly as possible in B.C., but the effects of the pandemic on the illicit drug supply chain has made drugs dramatically more toxic than a year ago and, tragically, more lethal,” said Sheila Malcolmson, minister of mental health and addictions.

Vancouver Island’s central region recorded four illicit drug toxicity deaths, including two in Nanaimo, the report said. Island Health’s 27.4 deaths per 100,000 people was the lowest in B.C. — the highest was 70.5 in Northern Health.

The report noted recent increases in the presence of unprescribed benzodiazepines and analogues, including etizolam, which were detected in nearly half of all samples tested in January. The addition of etizolam to fentanyl increases the likelihood of overdose due to the combined respiratory depressant effects, the report said.

“We are again calling for John Horgan and the NDP to deliver a seamless mental health and addictions system that will prevent vulnerable people from continuing to fall through the cracks of this fractured system,” said Trevor Halford, BC Liberal critic for mental health and addictions.

The report did not include monthly totals for Oceanside, but noted 16 illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2020.

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