The BC Coroners Service reported 981 deaths related to suspected drug toxicity in 2019, prompting a renewed call for improved access to a safer, regulated drug supply.
According to the BC Coroners Service report, the deaths average to 2.7 per day, and the numbers will likely increase as its investigation concludes.
The Provincial Government said that the East Kootenay has seen no suspected drug toxicity deaths in 2019, as opposed to six in 2018.
It added that while overall deaths are down by 36% from last year, the numbers are similar to the numbers shown when the provincial health emergency was declared in 2016.
“More than 5,000 lives have been lost in B.C. since 2016 as a result of illicit drug toxicity. These deaths have deeply hurt families and communities across our province and represent an immense loss of potential in all walks of life,” said Lisa Lapointe, B.C.’s chief coroner. “The number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2019 remains higher than motor vehicle incidents, suicides and homicides combined, and B.C. continues to bear the heaviest toll of the impacts of the unpredictable, profit-driven, illicit drug market.”
In the report from the BC Coroners Service, middle-aged men represent a large portion of suspected overdose deaths, as 71% involved people aged 30 to 39 and more than three-quarters involved men.
It added that 87% of deaths occurred indoors, and more people died on days immediately after income assistance was issued than all other days of the year. Across the province, the death rate from suspected drug toxicity was 19 out of 100,000 people in 2019, with at least one death on 330 of the 365 days of last year.
“The decrease in the number of British Columbians dying from this crisis is encouraging and indicates that our harm-reduction measures to keep people alive are working,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer. “We’re dealing with addiction. And addiction is an illness, a health condition. We are in no way out of this crisis yet. We continue to see very high rates of overdose events across the province and are seeing increased numbers of young people with long-lasting health effects after overdosing.”
The Provincial Government said that B.C.’s Indigenous residents are over-represented in the data. It added that further details and analysis will be published by the First Nations Health Authority.
“We can confirm we will be releasing our own data in partnership with the BC Coroners Service on the specific impact of this crisis on First Nations people in B.C. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Nel Wieman, a senior medical officer with the First Nations Health Authority. “But we know one thing for certain: the impact of this crisis on Indigenous peoples is proportionately greater than for the rest of the population.”
According to the B.C. Government, fentanyl had been detected in four out of five overdose deaths in 2019.