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175 dead from toxic drugs in B.C. in September: coroner's report

B.C.'s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe
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The latest data on toxic drug deaths in British Columbia shows 175 fatalities in September, as the crisis continues unabated.

The BC Coroners Service released the monthly report Wednesday, showing there have been 1,836 deaths in the province so far in 2023. More than 13,000 people have died since a public health emergency was declared in 2016.

"These deaths are largely preventable, and yet, in 2023, British Columbians are being lost to unregulated drug supply at twice the rate they were when the emergency was first declared," a summary of the findings of a death review panel, also released Wednesday, said.

"With the passing of each day, week, month, and year, we risk becoming numb to the scale of this emergency as the current devastation becomes the norm."

The number of deaths reported represents a two per cent decrease when compared to August, and 10 per cent decrease when compared to September of 2022.

Four out of five deaths happened indoors, in private residences, shelters, supportive housing units, hotels and motels. The highest number of deaths were recorded in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser health regions, but the highest rate continues to be in Northern Health.

Seventy-five per cent of deaths were among men and 67 per cent of fatalities were among those between 30 and 59 years old.

Fentanyl was detected in 83 per cent of cases and smoking was the most common method of consumption, at 65 per cent.

"There is no indication that prescribed safer supply is contributing to unregulated drug deaths," the summary of the data says.

The report was issued the same day an expert panel released its recommendations on how to best combat the crisis, urging an alternative to current, prescription-based safe supply programs.

"The panel affirmed the need for a comprehensive and timely approach to the crisis and recommended, in the short term, the fastest way to reduce deaths is to reduce dependence on the unregulated toxic drug supply," a media release summarizing the panel's recommendations said.

"This requires creating access to a quality controlled, regulated supply of drugs for people at risk of dying."

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