The year is off to a grim start in the ongoing toxic drug poisoning crisis, with 207 more British Columbians dying in January.
BC Coroners Service announced Friday (March 11) that January marked the fourth consecutive month in which more than 200 lives were lost to the illicit drug supply in the province. That is an average of 13 deaths every two days.
While illicit drug toxicity death rates remain high throughout the province, there have been notable increases in smaller and medium-sized communities. The 11 recorded deaths in Kamloops in January made it the third most affected township in B.C. behind only Vancouver and Surrey. And the 19 deaths recorded in Northern Health equates to a death rate of 74.5 per 100,000 residents, by far the highest rate of any health authority.
Stats show that illicit fentanyl, a powerful opioid, were found at “extreme levels” in 23 per cent of drug tests between November 2021 and January, compared to 13 per cent of results in April 2020 and October 2021.
“We know that illicit substances in our province are toxic and that those dependent on them are vulnerable to serious harms and death,” chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said. “Ensuring access to safer supply, establishing a substance use system of care, and turning the focus away from punishing and stigmatizing are critical steps to resolving this public health emergency.”
Earlier this week, a panel of experts released a report finding that prohibition on illicit drugs among substance users and a need for more evidence-based care were the two contributing factors in the continued staggering numbers of deaths in B.C.