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Kelowna, Kamloops, Vernon see high number of overdose deaths: chief coroner

Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/BC Livestream
June 29, 2021 - 11:11 AM

B.C.’s toxic drug supply continues to take lives at an unprecedented rate five years into the overdose crisis.

In the first five months of 2021, 851 people in B.C. died from toxic illicit drugs, with 160 of those deaths happening in May alone, according to the B.C. Coroners Service.

Of those who died from an overdose, 130 were people who lived within the Interior Health region. 

While the B.C. Coroner’s Service report doesn’t specify all the areas where drug deaths occurred, it lists “top townships of injury” and until May, that indicates there were 19 deaths in Kelowna and 26 in Kamloops.  In Vernon there were 13 this year. For all of 2020 there were 62 illicit drug deaths in Kelowna and 60 in Kamloops and 13 in Vernon.

The overall rate of deaths due to toxic illicit drugs in British Columbia now stands at 39.3 per 100,000 residents. Every health authority in the province has recorded a death rate greater than 33.6 per 100,000 residents, the previous provincial high established in 2020.

"As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to wind down, we must turn our attention to combating B.C.'s other public health emergency with the same sense of urgency," Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, BC Coroners Service said in a press release.  

"We need to ensure that safe alternatives to toxic illicit drugs are available throughout the province, and that we are taking meaningful steps to reduce stigma and offer substance users access to the supports they need and are seeking.""

An average of 5.2 lives were lost to illicit drugs every day in May. The 160 deaths are the second-most ever recorded in the month after May 2020 (177 deaths).

The 851 lives lost between January and May are the most ever reported in the first five months of a calendar year, surpassing the 704 deaths reported in January-May 2017 by almost 21%.

Expedited toxicological results indicate the variability of the drug supply continues to pose a threat to substance users, as 27% of the samples tested in April and 25% of samples tested in May contained extreme concentrations (more than 50 micrograms per litre) of fentanyl - the highest rates reported since at least the beginning of 2019. Carfentanil, a more potent analogue of fentanyl, has now been detected in 75 deaths in 2021 after being identified in 65 investigations in all of 2020. Additionally, 60% of returned tests in May were positive for benzodiazepines, which create significant life-saving challenges for first responders when used in combination with opioids.

If you're using, visit a supervised consumption site or an overdose prevention site for free drug checking and other harm reduction services. You can find one near you at

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 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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