At least 174 people died in February from illicit drugs in BC, as the grim tally of fatalities from the province’s toxic drug supply hit 9,410 since the opioid crisis was declared in 2016.
Six of the lives lost in February were people under 19 years old, according to data from the BC Coroners Service released Tuesday.
BC’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe called the deaths yet another reminder that urgent action is needed on a province-wide scale.
“As we approach the sixth anniversary of the declaration of the public-health emergency into substance-related harms, we are continuing to lose members of our communities at an unprecedented and terrifying rate,” she said.
“I extend my deepest sympathy to the many families, friends and communities who are grieving the loss of a loved one.”
February is the 17th consecutive month in which more than 150 lives were lost to illicit drugs in BC, said Lapointe, noting there were approximately 6.2 deaths per day in February.
Lapointe said fentanyl continues to be the predominant substance found in post-mortem testing, and that Februrary was the third consecutive month in which more than 20 per cent of fentanyl-positive test results had concentrations greater than 50 micrograms per liter.
Additionally, between July 2020 and February 2022, etizolam—a benzodiazepine patients typically take for anxiety—was detected in 41 per cent of expedited testing results.
Lapointe warned that etizolam has a highly sedating effect that cannot be reversed by naloxone and, as a result, its presence creates significant life-saving challenges for first responders.
There continues to be no evidence that prescribed safer supply or diverted prescription opioids are contributing to the illicit-drug crisis in BC, she said.
“I recognize that the concept of safer supply is difficult for some to understand given the many decades of a punitive, enforcement-based approach to substance use,” Lapointe said, in the statement.
“However, unless we act quickly to provide a safe, regulated source of the drugs people are using in every community across our province, people we love will continue to be vulnerable to the profit-driven, chaotic illicit drug market. Safer supply, along with decriminalizing possession of drugs for personal use, reducing stigma and building an evidence-based system of treatment and recovery are critical components for reducing the terrible harms and fatal consequences of the toxic illicit drug market.”
Other data show that 78 per cent of those who have died in 2022 are men and most were in Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria.
* In 2022, 86 per cent of illicit drug toxicity deaths occurred inside (56 per cent in private residences and 29 per cent in other residences including social and supportive housing, single room occupancy, shelters and hotels, as well as other indoor locations) and 13 per cent occurred outside.
No deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.