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B.C. records highest-ever monthly total of illicit drug deaths

The B.C. Coroners Service is has provided updated data on illicit drug toxicity and fentanyl-detected deaths within the province, and May of 2020 has the highest ever recorded within a single month, with 170 deaths across the province.

“It is both sad and deeply frustrating to see the number of illicit drug deaths reach a new high in B.C. four years after the declaration of a public health emergency,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner. “Despite the many collective efforts directed at this crisis, the toxic drug supply continues to take the lives of our family members, friends and colleagues.”

May marks the third month in a row where B.C. has seen more than 100 drug toxicity deaths. Before May of this year, the highest number of drug-related deaths was in December of 2016, with 161.

“We still know that illicit drug toxicity death rates in B.C. remain the highest for any jurisdiction in Canada, and every region in B.C. has been impacted. That said, were it not for the dedicated efforts taken to date, the death toll would be higher. We must continue to build on further access to safe supply in B.C. and for a regulated, evidence-based, supportive treatment and recovery system as important pillars in preventing future deaths.”

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The B.C. government noted that no deaths occurred at supervised consumption or overdose prevention sites.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it easier to hide drug use, as people are encouraged to be apart from one another. However, Drug-related deaths in May alone have passed the number of people who have died from COVID-19, at 167 as of Thursday, June 11th.

“The drug supply is unpredictable and highly toxic, and has led to a sustained increase in fatal and non-fatal overdoses from smoking and injection in recent months,” said Dr. Jane Buxton, harm reduction lead for the BC Centre for Disease Control. “COVID-19 has added challenges and people may be feeling more isolated and anxious, but it’s important to continue to buddy up, or access local overdose prevention and supervised consumption services during this time.”

May 2020’s number represents a 93% increase over May of 2019, where 88 people were killed by drug toxicity.

70% of the recorded deaths in 2020 were between the ages of 19 to 49, and men accounted for 80% of total deaths so far.

According to data from the Coroner Service’s report, seven people have died within the East Kootenay so far in 2020.

The province has launched its Lifeguard app to help prevent overdoses, as well it is recommended that users have some supports in place, such as friends, or family members.

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