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July was B.C.'s 2nd-deadliest month on record for illicit drug overdoses: coroner's data


More than 1,200 people have died of illicit drug overdose in British Columbia this year, the province's chief coroner said Wednesday, noting the annual death rate has nearly doubled in five years of the crisis.

The latest update from Lisa Lapointe includes 184 deaths in the month of July, making it the second-deadliest month in the years-long crisis.

Only two fewer deaths were recorded than in June 2020.

It's the 17th month in a row in B.C. where more than 100 people have died due to toxic drugs, and the equivalent of nearly 6 deaths every day.

Deaths due to drug toxicity are the leading cause of unnatural deaths in the province.

Lapointe called the deaths a "stark reminder of the tragic and unrelenting trajectory of this public health emergency. We know that the loss of each of these individuals leaves a devastated circle of family and friends who are grieving the preventable death of a cherished loved one."

She said the death rate has nearly doubled since the emergency was first declared in 2016. At that time, the death rate was 20.4 per 100,000. Now, it's at 39.7.

In a statement outlining the preliminary findings, Lapointe said the deaths in July bring the total toll so far this year 1,204. It's the highest number of deaths in the first seven months of any year in B.C.

The previous high was in 2017, when 954 people died between January and the end of July. The same period in 2021 saw 26 per cent more deaths.

Previous projections suggest 2021 is on track to see a record-breaking number of deaths due to illicit drug toxicity, a warning the latest report seems to back up.

As is often the case in B.C., fentanyl continued to be a "significant driver" of deaths in July, but the latest data suggests the number of deaths involving "extreme" concentrations of the powerful opioid is increasing.

Fentanyl and its analogues, such as carfentanil, have been a factor in 86 per cent of deaths last year and this year.

As she has before, Lapointe included in her monthly update her belief that more action is needed to save lives. She's pushing for "an accessible range of solutions" including more drug-checking services and safe consumption sites.

Additionally, she's suggested several times that there needs to be "meaningful access" to a safe supply, so users aren't relying on dealers selling substances of an inconsistent dose. Lapointe is also calling for the implementation of "evidence-based standards of practice" in treatment programs.

"The heartbreak being experienced by another five or six more families in our province each and every day cannot continue," she said in a statement Wednesday.

There are changes coming to B.C., according to Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson.

In a statement issued after the coroner's, the minister called the year "incredibly sad," and added there are "big changes" the province is working on, which she says will save lives long term.

"This includes more and varied services that address the root cause of addiction, decriminalization to stop the stigma against people who use drugs and a prescribed safer supply to separate people from poisoned street drugs.

"We will get there."

Malcolmson said she feels the weight of the grief and frustration of those who've lost loved ones.

"Almost every person in B.C. knows someone who died because of poisoned drugs," she said. The minister pledged to listen to those who have first-hand experience, and to continue to make changes.

As for who those five or six people every day are, 72 per cent are between the ages of 30 and 59, and most are men.

The vast majority of people have been indoors at the time of their overdose, whether in a private home, social housing unit, shelter, hotel or elsewhere, while 15 per cent were outside.

The highest rates of death are in the Vancouver Coastal and Northern health authorities, both of which have rates per 100,000 population higher than the province's 39.7

At a regional level – by health service delivery area - Vancouver, Thompson Cariboo, northwestern B.C., northern Vancouver Island and Fraser East have seen the highest death rates in 2021.

Fraser Health has seen the highest number of deaths so far this year.

No one has died at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites. Top Stories

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