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Overdose death toll within Interior Health increasing

FILE. Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe speaks about the latest statistics on illicit drug overdose deaths and fentanyl-detected overdose deaths.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
March 24, 2021 - 12:09 PM

Illicit drug overdose deaths continue to increase at an unprecedented rate.

In February there were another 25 drug overdose deaths within the Interior Health region, raising the 2021 death toll to 48. In contrast, the number of people who died of an overdose in the first two months of 2020 was 28.

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 to date, that indicates there were eight deaths in Kelowna, five in Kamloops and five in Vernon. For all of 2020 there were 62 illicit drug deaths in Kelowna, 60 in Kamloops and 26 in Vernon. The coroner's service did not provide numbers for Penticton.

The Coroners Service report indicated that there were 155 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths in February, the 11th consecutive month in which the province has recorded more than 100 lives lost.

"The number of deaths due to toxic illicit drugs in February highlights the ongoing critical risk to public health and safety from the illicit drug market," Lisa Lapointe, B.C.'s chief coroner, said in a press release.

Lapointe went on to say the continued unprecedented rate of death in B.C. highlights the urgent need for a multi-faceted, evidence-based and accessible system of care for those experiencing problematic substance use.

The total number of deaths is the largest ever recorded in the month of February and an increase of 107% over the total number of deaths recorded in February 2020. The average of 5.5 lives lost each day makes February the second consecutive month in which the average number of daily deaths was above 5. The 1,724 deaths recorded in 2020 work out to an average of 4.7 deaths a day.

Also of note, 15% of the lives lost in 2021 were people 60 years of age and older and 40% were over age 50. These increasing numbers continue a trend that has been observed in older age cohorts over the last several years.

Increased variability and toxicity in the drug supply continues to significantly contribute to the overall number of suspected deaths. Carfentanil, a more lethal analogue of fentanyl, was detected in 18 of the 155 deaths (12%), an increase from the January total of 14, the largest monthly figure recorded since April 2019.

"This data emphasizes the alarming increase in the toxicity of the illicit drug supply throughout B.C.," Lapointe said. "Across the province, the risk of serious harm or death is very real for anyone using a substance purchased from the illicit market. Decisive action is urgently needed to ensure an accessible, regulated safe supply and to provide people with the supervised consumption, treatment and recovery services they need."


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