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January toxic drug deaths break record to start 2021

Numbers from the BC Coroners Service show that 165 people have died from suspected illicit drug toxicity in January, the most ever recorded for the month.

Previously, the highest recorded number of deaths in January was in 2017, with 147 overdose deaths.

According to the report, one person died from an overdose in the East Kootenay throughout the month.

In the Interior Health region, 23 people died from drug toxicity in January.

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“These figures are heartbreaking, both in scale and for the number of families who are grieving the loss of a loved one,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, BC Coroners Service. “In the fifth year of this public health emergency, there is virtually no community in the province that hasn’t been touched by this devastating loss of life.”

The number of deaths throughout the province equates to about 5.3 lives lost per day due to the toxic drug supply.

The Province noted that January also marks the 10th consecutive month with more than 100 deaths attributed to suspected illicit drug toxicity.

About 18% of deaths in January found extreme levels of fentanyl concentrations (more than 50 micrograms/litre), the largest number to date.

An additional 14 deaths were linked with carfentanil, a more lethal analogue of fentanyl, which marks an increase from the nine deaths in December, and the is the most since May of 2019.

According to the B.C. Government, the report also notes an increase in unprescribed benzodiazepines (benzos) and its analogues, including etizolam, which is not licensed in Canada.

Etizolam has been detected in 31% of illicit drug toxicity deaths where expedited testing was performed since July 2020.

49% of all samples tested in January tuned up benzodiazepines and its analogues.

The Province said adding etizolam to fentanyl increases the likelihood of overdose due to the combined respiratory depressant effects.

“We’re particularly concerned about the toxicity of the drugs detected in many of the deaths recorded in January,” Lapointe said. “The findings suggest that the already unstable drug supply in B.C. is becoming even deadlier, underscoring the urgent need for supervised consumption options, prescribing for safe supply, and accessible treatment and recovery services.”

January’s numbers follow on a record-breaking amount of deaths seen over the course of 2020.

More: 2020 sees over 1,700 deaths from toxic drugs in B.C. (Feb 11, 2021)

More: Illicit Drug Toxicity Deaths in BC Jan 1, 2011 – Jan 31, 2021 (B.C. Government)

More: Illicit Drug Toxicity Type of Drug Data Data to Jan 31, 2021 (B.C. Government)

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