Coroner says 2020 could become B.C.'s worst year for overdose deaths, as Surrey RCMP send new warning
Surrey is seen in this file image. (Murray Titus / CTV Vancouver)
VANCOUVER -- A deadly 12 hours in Surrey has led to an urgent warning from the RCMP. Three people have died of suspected overdoses, and a toxic batch of street drugs could potentially be to blame.
Cpl. Elenore Sturko told CTV News it isn’t common to see three deaths potentially linked to drug use in such a short period of time.
While the causes of death have not officially been confirmed, Sturko said inital indications point to drugs being involved.
“Two of these fatalities occurred within residences, one in south Surrey, one of them in Newton. One of them sadly occurred in a stairwell,” she said. “This can affect anyone.”
In October, Surrey RCMP sent out another warning after five people were found overdosing in a home, and were revived.
“We want to make sure that people in the community here and in the greater community know that there is a potential that there are some more potent or more toxic than usual drugs circulating currently,” Sturko said.
On Thursday afternoon, the RCMP announced they had arrested a 19-year-old man in Langley and seized multiple doses of drugs "believed to be linked to recent overdoses in the city."
Officers seized blue and purple fentanyl, which the RCMP said is believed to be potentially lethal, and warned users not to consume it. Crack cocaine and crystal meth were also seized.
B.C.’s chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, said they are seeing more extreme fentanyl concentrations in their post-mortem results.
“That’s a relatively new thing in 2020,” Lapointe told CTV News, and added the high toxicity is "certainly" one of the factors contributing to the increase in deaths the province has seen this year.
She cited the isolating effects of the pandemic as another factor, along with reduced access to safe consumption sites, naloxone, and drug testing.
“So all of those harm reduction measures that were really supporting people to stay alive were impacted,” she said.
Lapointe noted the higher toxicity of illicit street drugs is also believed to be linked to the pandemic.
“Where it’s coming from very likely has changed as a result of disrupted supply chains,” Lapointe said. “It’s possible that 2020 could be the worst year B.C. has ever experienced in terms of loss of life due to toxic drug supply.”
As of September, just over 1,200 people in B.C. had died of illicit drug overdoses this year, according to statistics from the coroner. Fentanyl was detected in about 80 per cent of those deaths.
“Each one of those numbers is a person with a family, with friends, and really from all walks of life in this province,” Lapointe said, and made a plea for more safe access to drugs for those who are addicted. “They need these substances, and they will die if they are continuing to have to buy them on the illicit market.”
Lapointe also said it’s not just fentanyl, but other drugs that are being mixed in as well that are increasing the risk.
“Fifty percent of those who die also have cocaine present in their systems,” Lapointe said, and added other substances they’re finding include benzodiazepine, methamphetamine, and amphetamine. “It’s this really toxic combination of drugs, and that makes it also very hard sometimes to reverse an overdose.”
Lapointe is asking those who are using substances to only do so in the company of someone who can administer naloxone and call 911. Cpl. Sturko echoed that plea.
“Please don’t use alone,” she said. “Please have access to Narcan, and if you or someone close to you is in medical distress, please don’t hesitate to call for help.”