Another record month of drug overdose deaths in B.C.: Chief Coroner | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Another record month of drug overdose deaths in B.C.: Chief Coroner

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK
July 16, 2020 - 1:52 PM

B.C. has set a tragic record for the number of illicit drug overdose deaths in one month.

The B.C. Coroners Service says 175 people have died as the result of an illicit drug overdose in June, up from the previous record of 171 deaths in May.

So far this year, there have been 728 deaths and the number of deaths in each health authority in B.C. is at or near the highest monthly totals ever recorded, according to a B.C. Coroners Service media release. B.C. has now recorded four consecutive months with more than 100 illicit drug toxicity deaths.

In 2020, there have been 52 illicit drug overdose deaths in the Okanagan and 44 in the Thompson Cariboo region. There have been 27 deaths reported in the Interior this year, compared to four deaths in 2019.

"For the second month in a row, this province has experienced the highest number of deaths ever as a result of illicit substances with 175 lives lost, leaving behind grief and frustration while this public health emergency carries on into its fifth year," chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said in the release. 

"We know the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people who use drugs, as it has all British Columbians. Access to key harm reduction services has been a challenge and our social networks are smaller."

READ MORE: Interior Health has second-highest rate of overdose deaths in 2020

Cities experiencing the highest number of deaths so far in 2020 were Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria. Fraser and Vancouver Coastal Health Authorities have had the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths (228 and 205 deaths, respectively) in 2020, making up 59 per cent of all such deaths during this period.

"I also want to note the province's new risk mitigation guidance in the context of dual public health emergencies and encourage clinicians to support those who are at risk of overdose because of the toxic drug supply," Lapointe said.

"The risks of the illicit market are unmanageable, and access to safe supply for those with this medical condition is essential to save lives," she said. "We are monitoring for the presence of hydromorphone in post-mortem toxicity results and have seen no evidence of a link between increased prescriptions and the increase in deaths.

"It is clear this is not just an opioid epidemic, with cocaine and methamphetamine/amphetamine detected in many drug deaths we investigate. However, we do know that illicit fentanyl remains the most significant driver in the tragic number of deaths our communities are experiencing."

Data published in this most recent report suggests an increase in the number of cases with extreme fentanyl concentrations (exceeding 50 micrograms per litre) in April, May and June 2020 compared with previous months.

"The number of lives lost over more than four years of a public health emergency is heartbreaking. That each one of these deaths was entirely preventable makes this emergency all the more tragic," interim executive director at the B.C. Centre on Substance Use Dr. Perry Kendall said in the release.

"It is quite clear what needs to be done: invest in a public health approach to substance use that promotes the health and equity of people who use drugs," Kendall said. "This must include not only decriminalization, but also pharmaceutical alternatives to the toxic drug supply. Alongside investments in an evidence-based substance-use system of care to support recovery, treatment and harm reduction, these are the critical steps needed to finally end this emergency."

To contact a reporter for this story, email Carli Berry or call 250-864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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