UPDATE: B.C. records highest-ever month of overdose deaths | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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UPDATE: B.C. records highest-ever month of overdose deaths

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK
June 11, 2020 - 11:48 AM

There were 170 people who died from illicit drugs in B.C. in May, up 93 per cent from last year when there were only 88.

That’s more than the previous high of 161 deaths in December 2016 and marks the third consecutive month that more than 100 people have died from drugs in B.C., according to a news release from the B.C. Coroners Service.

"The number of people who we've lost - not this past month, but over the past four years - is unfathomable and heartbreaking," said Guy Felicella, peer clinical advisor with BC Centre on Substance Use and the provincial Overdose Emergency Response Centre, said in the news release. "More British Columbians died of overdose in one month than died in the whole first wave of COVID-19. All British Columbians should collectively share our grief and urge action to improve access to safer supply so people can get the help they need."

There have been 167 deaths from COVID-19 in B.C.

So far this year, there have been 554 illicit drug deaths in B.C.

Of those, 89 have been in the Interior Health Region. That’s actually a drop from the 139 deaths in the first five months of 2019.

There have been 22 deaths in Kamloops so far this year and 21 in Kelowna. Those are the only locations listed in the Interior.

In a separate news release, Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, said the province had been making progress in fighting the overdose crises prior to COVID-19. Deaths had dropped 36 per cent, year over year by the time the pandemic started.

"Yet, with the immense pressure of two public health emergencies, so many unprecedented factors are bearing down swiftly on us all at once,” she said in the release. “Borders are closed and the usual illegal supply chains are disrupted, leading to drugs that are more toxic than ever. Unemployment, social isolation, declining mental health and increased alcohol and substance use are also the reality for so many right now.”

"In the past three months, we have taken significant steps to begin separating people from the even more poisoned and toxic drug supply and protect people who are using alone. By providing safe prescription alternatives, we are saving lives and connecting people to more treatment and health supports.”

Since March there has been a 149% increase (from 677 to 1,686) in the number of people dispensed hydromorphone, the release stated.

Next Monday a new 24/7 helpline will be launched to support doctors, pharmacists and nurse practitioners who are dealing with opioid users.

She also encouraged drug users to get a new Lifeguard app that is designed to connect them to first responders if they become unresponsive.

“"Today I am appealing to anyone who is reading this message. If you use illicit drugs, those drugs are incredibly toxic and even more poisoned than before,” Darcy said in the release. “I am asking each of you to have a plan. Buddy up so you're not using poisoned drugs alone. Use the Lifeguard app - it will signal for help if you need it. Continue to visit OPS and supervised consumption services sites. Carry naloxone.”

 – This story was updated at 12:40 p.m. on June 11 to add comments from Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.


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