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70% of accidental deaths in B.C. prisons due to toxic drugs: coroner's report

The Mission Correctional Institution in Mission, B.C. is pictured Tuesday, April 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward The Mission Correctional Institution in Mission, B.C. is pictured Tuesday, April 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
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The majority of accidental deaths that occurred in B.C. prisons over the last decade were due to toxic drugs, a new report released by the provincial coroner shows.

The BC Coroners Service shared data Thursday that showed an increase in overall deaths in provincial and federal correctional facilities. The annual average number of deaths in B.C. correctional facilities over the last decade was 17 per year, the data showed, but in 2023, 25 inmates died. Over a five-year period, the number of deaths in correctional facilities in the province increased by 56 per cent.

Investigations into many deaths are ongoing – including all of the ones that occurred in 2023. According to information available, 17 deaths between 2013 and 2022 were classified as accidental. Of those, 12 were caused by unregulated drug toxicity, the BC Coroners Service said.

"It's important to note that this includes only confirmed drug-toxicity cases on closed coroner investigations," a statement from the BC Coroners Service said. "All data in the report is subject to change as individual investigations are completed and causes of death are confirmed."

BC Coroners Service also noted men accounted for a significant majority of deaths in correctional facilities in the province. Between 2013 and 2023, 98 per cent of inmates who died in a correctional facility were male. No female deaths were reported between 2018 and 2023.

According to the BC Coroners Service, the province's unregulated drug supply is the leading cause of death for British Columbians between the ages of 10 and 59. Since the province declared a public-health emergency in April 2016, at least 14,400 people have died from toxic drugs in B.C.  

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