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Illicit drug death toll surpasses 2,000 in B.C. for a 2nd consecutive year

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British Columbia reported 2,272 illicit drugs deaths in 2022, new data released by the BC Coroners Service shows.

The fatalities from the last two months of the year—the second consecutive one in which the province surpassed 2,000 lives lost—shows toxic drugs killed 182 people in November and another 210 in December.

While announcing the service’s latest findings Tuesday, Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe made a direct apology to people who have lost loved ones due to illicit drugs.

“I am so sorry – their lives mattered, and their deaths are our collective loss,” said Lapointe.

Approximately 6.4 deaths occurred daily last year on average, with people aged 30-59 representing 70 per cent of fatalities. That’s approximately the same daily death toll B.C. saw in 2021.

“B.C. has experienced an average of six deaths of every day of every week for two years due to toxic drugs and these deaths were preventable,” Lapointe said. “Drug toxicity remains the leading cause of unnatural deaths in B.C., significantly surpassing the number of fatalities linked to self-harm, motor vehicle accidents and homicide combined.”

EVERY CORNER OF B.C. AFFECTED

While all parts of the province are being impacted by the toxic drug crisis, three of the five health authorities experienced record high rates of death, according to Lapointe.

For every 100,000 people, Interior Health saw 46 deaths, Vancouver Coastal Health reported 50.5 and North Health saw 59.5.

The majority of deaths, 55 per cent, have happened in private residences. Twenty-nine per cent of people died in other residences including social and supportive housing, and 15 per cent happened outside in vehicles, streets and parks.

One person died at an overdose prevention site.

DRUG DEATHS BY DEMOGRPHIC

Men accounted for the vast majority of deaths at nearly 80 per cent, while the average age of someone dying of drug toxicity was 44 years old.

In the past two years, Lapointe says there have been 65 deaths of children and youth, a demographic that represents 1.5 per cent of drug toxicity fatalities.

“The actual number of those under age 19 dying has grown as the total number of deaths continues to increase rapidly,” said Lapointe.

DEADLIEST DRUGS

Preliminary data shows that fentanyl or its analogues—acetylfentanyl, carfentanyl, norfentayl—were detected in 82 per cent of toxic drug deaths in 2022, marking a four per cent drop from the year prior. Carfentanil accounted for 126 deaths last year, which is 66 fewer than in 2021.

According to BC Coroner Service, the number of people who died with “extreme fentanyl concentrations” was greatest between April and November of last year.

After fentanyl, cocaine has been the second most prevalent drug detected in fatal overdoses. Between July 2020 and December 2022, cocaine was linked to 46 per cent of deaths, followed by methamphetamine at 41 per cent.

“There’s no indication that prescribed safe supply is contributing to illicit drug deaths,” Lapointe said.

Since the province declared a public health emergency over illicit drug deaths in 2016, British Columbia has recorded more than 11,000 fatalities.

“We all look forward to the day this public health emergency is over and these updates are no longer necessary,” said Lapointe.

The latest data on the crisis was released on the first day of B.C.’s three-year pilot project decriminalizing small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use.

Jennifer Whiteside, the province’s mental health and addictions minister, says that while decriminalization is not enough to reduce illicit drug deaths, it can help destigmatize substance use and encourage people to seek services they may need.

 

This is a developing story and will be updated.

With files from CTV News Vancouver’s Regan Hasegawa

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