B.C. records second worst month ever for illicit drug toxicity deaths

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Five British Columbians died, on average, of illicit drug toxicity every day last month, according to the most recent BC Coroners Service report.

There were 160 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths in May — the second highest ever recorded. It was the 15th consecutive month in which B.C. experienced more than 100 deaths due to drug toxicity.

“More than five years into this public health emergency, we continue to lose our loved ones, friends and neighbours at an almost unimaginable rate,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner. 

“There is no way to measure the catastrophic impact that the loss of these lives have had on every community in our province. Today, I grieve with all those who have lost someone close to them as a result of this crisis.”

The overall rate of deaths due to toxic illicit drugs in B.C. now stands at 39.3 per 100,000 residents. Every health authority in the province has recorded a death rate greater than 33.6 per 100,000 residents, the previous provincial high established in 2020, according to the report. Oceanside’s rate so far this year is 34.3.

The report found one quarter of samples tested in May contained extreme concentrations (more than 50 micrograms per litre) of fentanyl – the highest rates reported since at least the beginning of 2019.

Carfentanil, a more potent analogue of fentanyl, has now been detected in 75 deaths this year, after being identified in 65 investigations in all of 2020, according to BC Coroners Service. 

Additionally, the report determined 60 per cent of returned tests in May were positive for benzodiazepines, which create significant challenges for first responders when used in combination with opioids.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to wind down, we must turn our attention to combating B.C.’s other public health emergency with the same sense of urgency,” Lapointe said. 

“We need to ensure that safe alternatives to toxic illicit drugs are available throughout the province and that we are taking meaningful steps to reduce stigma and offer substance users access to the supports they need and are seeking.”

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