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B.C. records lowest number of toxic drug deaths in over a year in August

Fentanyl-containing tablets are shown in this undated file photo. Fentanyl-containing tablets are shown in this undated file photo.

In August, the number of British Columbians who lost their lives to toxic drugs was the lowest since June 2022, according to the latest data from the BC Coroners service.

Unregulated drugs accounted for 174 deaths last month—about 5.6 deaths per day—which is 14 per cent fewer fatalities than in July, and eight per cent less than last August. It’s the lowest recorded number since last June, when 157 people died, and the first time in 2023 that fewer than 180 people died in the span of one month.

The deadliest month of 2023 so far was April, when 235 fatalities were recorded.

The coroners service notes that the data is preliminary and could change, so “caution should be exercised when drawing conclusions regarding trends from a single month of data.”

For example, the service originally reported 198 deaths in July, but that number has since risen to 203. And in May, preliminary numbers indicated it was the first month where deaths were below 180, but the data has since been changed to show 196 people actually died that month.

In the first eight months of 2023, over 1,600 British Columbians have died because of toxic, unregulated drugs, according to the coroners service. And at least 12,929 people have lost their lives to the toxic drug supply since the overdose crisis was declared a public health emergency in April 2016.

“We are continuing to lose members of our communities in heartbreaking numbers as a result of the toxicity of the illicit drug market," said Lisa Lapointe, the province's chief coroner, in a statement accompanying the data.

She said the scale of the crisis requires a proportionate response, reiterating the call for improved quality and reach of harm reduction and treatment services, and increased access to regulated drugs.

“The BC Coroners Service continues to recommend urgent, collaborative action on the part of ministries and health authorities to co-ordinate a province-wide continuum of care that saves lives,” Lapointe said. “If we cannot implement these changes, our loved ones will continue to die."

Lapointe also noted smoking continues to be the dominant mode of consumption--almost two-thirds of people who died in 2023 smoked their drugs-- a pattern that began in 2017. “(The data) further underscores the need for spaces for people who use drugs to smoke them safely,” she said.

The coroners service added that “in response to increased public concerns regarding safer supply initiatives,” it has been screening for the presence of safe supply-related substances in its toxicology tests.

According to the coroners service, hydromorphone has been detected in three per cent of expedited toxicology tests in 2023. Meanwhile, fentanyl and its analogues were detected in 85 per cent of such tests.

The service says it has found no indication that prescribed safer supply is contributing to the deaths.


According to the coroners service, drug toxicity is the leading cause of death for people aged 10 to 59 in B.C.—higher than homicides, suicides, accidents and "natural disease" combined.

In August, 74 per cent of people who died were between the ages of 30 and 59, a figure that has remained relatively consistent over the past decade.

And 81 per cent were male, which is also in line with earlier data.

Two people aged 18 or younger died in August. The highest recorded number of fatalities for people in that age group was in March, when five died.


The cities that see the most drug deaths remain Vancouver, Surrey and Greater Victoria, according to the coroners service.

In August, about half of all fatalities occurred in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser health authorities.

The highest rate of death was in the Interior Health Authority—4.2 per 100,000—followed closely by Vancouver Coastal at 4.1 per 100,000.

When zooming out to yearly data, Northern Health has the highest death rate in 2023, at 58.2 per 100,000, again followed closely by Vancouver Coastal at 55.9 per 100,000.

So far this year, 80 per cent of unregulated drug deaths occurred indoors—48 per cent in private residences and 32 per cent in “other residences,” which include supportive housing, SROs and shelters. Nineteen per cent happened outside, in places like vehicles, sidewalks and parks. Top Stories

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