BC drug death toll tops 10,000 since 2016 emergency declaration

British Columbia has lost more than 10,000 lives to illicit drugs since the province declared a public health emergency in April 2016, says Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe.

Lapointe said the province is on track to lose another record number of people to the supply of toxic drugs this year, with the number of deaths in the first half of 2022 exceeding those in the same period in 2021.

“Illicit fentanyl continues to drive this crisis and, to date in 2022, fentanyl or its analogs have been present in 83 percent of deaths,” he told a news conference on Tuesday.

New data from the BC Coroner’s Service revealed that at least 1,095 residents are believed to have died from January to June of this year, with an average of six deaths per day.

The report found that more than three-quarters of those who died this year were men, with the majority between the ages of 30 and 59.

Although June saw 146 overdose deaths, a 26 percent decrease compared to May, Lapointe cautioned that this does not mean the crisis is easing.

“We don’t put too much weight on an individual month because we know that throughout this crisis, we’ve seen declines and then we’ve seen rapid increases. What that reflects is market volatility,” he said.

“We know from the data coming out of July that we’re going to see an increase that will go back up. I think the message can really only be that it’s unpredictable.”

In June, Ottawa passed a three-year exception to federal drug laws, and starting next year, BC will become the first province where people will not be arrested and charged for possessing up to 2.5 grams of certain drugs. illegal.

Lapointe applauded the move but said there is still an urgent need for the government to provide access to safer supply across the province.

Drug death toll in #BC exceeds 10,000 since emergency declaration in 2016: Medical Examiner. #BCPoli #IllegalDrugs #OverdoseCrisis #ToxicDrugs

“Certainly the conversation is changing. Yet, very sadly, the supply of toxic drugs is changing and changing just as quickly,” he said.

He was referring to a report by a BC Coroners Service death review panel that examined more than 6,000 illicit drug overdose deaths from August 2017 through July 2021. The report, released in March, found that the leading cause of deaths illicit drug overdose in the province is a combination of an increasingly toxic supply and a current policy framework that it says forces users to unregulated sources.

“Only when we dramatically reduce people’s reliance on the illicit drug trade for profit will we save lives and change the trajectory of this crisis,” Lapointe said.

The latest figures as of June 30 bring the death toll since April 2016 to 9,949, but Lapointe said there was an “increasing death toll” in July, bringing the count to more than 10,000.

Guy Felicella, a peer clinical advisor to the Center for Overdose Emergency Response and the BC Center on Substance Use, also calls for updated policies and more public education to end the stigma associated with drug use. Nothing will change if people can’t get the help they need, he said.

“We haven’t been able to give people an alternative to the illicit drug supply, whether it’s through safe supply, treatment or recovery, and then they die,” he said.

The province said illicit drug toxicity is the leading cause of unnatural death in BC

— By Brieanna Charlebois in Vancouver.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 16, 2022.

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