Over 1,000 British Columbians died due to illicit drug toxicity in first half of 2021

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At least 1,011 lives were lost to suspected illicit drug toxicity in B.C. between January and June 2021, according to a BC Coroners Service report.

Eighty-one per cent of the deaths were male and 71 per cent were between the ages of 30 and 59, the report found.

“The data released today highlights the immensity of this public health emergency and the need for a wide-scale response. This includes removing barriers to safe supply, ensuring timely access to evidence-based affordable treatment and providing those experiencing problematic substance use with compassionate and viable options to reduce risks and save lives,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, BC Coroners Service.

In June, 159 people died in B.C. as a result of drug toxicity, the ninth consecutive month in which at least 150 British Columbians died as a result of the toxic drug supply. The total number of lives lost between January and June is the highest recorded in the first six months of a calendar year. The Oceanside local health area has recorded six deaths so far this year. Drug toxicity is now the leading cause of death in B.C. for those aged 19 to 39 and is second in terms of reducing total potential years of life, according to the BC Coroners Service.

“Paramedics across B.C. have been responding to an exponential increase in overdoses this year, and there appears no end in sight to this health crisis. This is someone’s best friend. This is someone’s dad. This is someone’s kid. Every time this happens, the loss is devastating,” said Brian Twaites, an advanced care paramedic and paramedic specialist, who has responded to thousands of overdoses during his 35-year career.

B.C.’s illicit drug supply is both variable and increasingly toxic, with extreme fentanyl concentrations and carfentanil showing up more frequently in toxicology testing, the report found. Post-mortem testing shows fentanyl continues to be the substance involved in most drug-toxicity deaths — 85 per cent in the first six months of 2021. Cocaine, methamphetamine and etizolam are also present in significant numbers of deaths. The report found illicit substances are driving the health crisis and prescribed safe supply is not playing a role in the deaths.

The report found the highest death rates were in Vancouver Coastal Health (46 deaths per 100,000 individuals) and Northern Health (45 per 100,000). Overall, the rate in B.C. is 39 deaths per 100,000 individuals. Oceanside’s rate is 22.9 per 100,000. Deaths due to drug toxicity remain the leading cause of unnatural death in B.C.

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