B.C. saw record drug toxicity deaths in October

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Over 200 people died from illicit drug toxicity across B.C. in October, according to the latest BC Coroners Service report.

The 201 deaths represent the highest monthly number recorded in B.C., where 1,782 lives have been lost to illicit drug toxicity in 10 months. The Oceanside local health area reported 10 illicit drug toxicity deaths between January and August, according to the report.

The number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in October equates to about 6.5 deaths per day, according to the province.

“Today is a heart-rending milestone for our province,” said Lisa Lapointe, B.C.’s chief coroner. “In the sixth year of this public health emergency, we are experiencing a record loss of life and I know this news will resonate with tremendous sadness amongst the thousands of families who have lost a loved one to this crisis. My thoughts continue to be with every family and community that is grieving the loss of a loved one.”  

While the largest numbers of deaths continue to be recorded in urban centres such as Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria, the rates of death per 100,000 residents are at record levels in every health authority, including Vancouver Coastal (47.6), Interior (45.0) and Northern (44.8). The overall rate of death in the province stands at 41.2 per 100,000 residents, more than double the rate recorded in 2016 (20.4). The Oceanside local health area’s rate is 29.2 per 100,000 residents, according to the report.

“This is a health crisis,” Lapointe said. “I cannot stress enough how urgent this emergency has become. A comprehensive plan to ensure access to safe supply for the thousands of B.C. residents dependent on these substances is essential. Shifting from a punishment and stigmatizing regime to a decriminalized, health-focused model is also a critical step to reduce suffering and save lives.”

Seventy-one per cent of those who died as a result of suspected drug toxicity this year were between 30–59, and 79 per cent were male, according to the report.

Illicit drug toxicity deaths in B.C. rank second only to cancer in terms of years of life lost. The median age of those who died as a result of illicit drug toxicity in 2020 was 43, according to the province.

Over 8,300 people have died as a result of drug toxicity since the public health emergency into substance-related harms was declared in April 2016, according to the province.

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