Province records over 1,500 illicit drug deaths in first nine months of 2021

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British Columbians continue to die at record high rates from toxic illicit drugs.

A recent BC Coroners Service report showed 1,534 people have died due to illicit drug toxicity so far this year, including 181 in August and 152 in September. Ten deaths have been recorded in the Oceanside local health area in 2021, according to the report.

B.C. saw a 24 per cent increase over the 1,240 deaths recorded between January and September 2020, according to the report. The province-wide death rate stands at 39.4 per 100,000 residents, nearly double the rate in 2016 when the public health emergency into substance-related harms was first declared. Oceanside’s death rate is 29.2 per 100,000 residents.

“Our province is in the sixth year of this public health emergency and the death rate due to toxic drugs has never been higher,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner. “The province’s application to the federal government to decriminalize possession of illicit drugs for personal use is an essential step to address the drug toxicity crisis. Criminalizing those who use substances has done nothing to address this complex health issue and has resulted in greater suffering and marginalization. How many more deaths are we willing to accept to maintain drug policies and laws that have no basis in evidence?”

September was the 12th consecutive month in which there were at least 150 deaths due to toxic illicit drugs and an average of 170 British Columbians died each month in 2021. The deaths in August and September are both records for those months, according to the BC Coroners Service.

Fentanyl and its analogues have now been detected in 84 per cent of all illicit toxicity deaths this year, with carfentanil, an especially potent analogue, detected in 137 deaths, more than double the 65 deaths recorded in all of 2020, according to the report. The vast majority of toxicological results indicate the presence of multiple substances — the three most frequently detected (in addition to fentanyl) are cocaine, methamphetamine/amphetamine and other opioids, the report found.

Seventy-one per cent of 2021’s illicit drug toxicity deaths were people age 30–59, and 79 per cent were men, the report found.

Deaths due to drug toxicity remain the leading cause of unnatural death in B.C., according to the BC Coroners Service.

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