Although the number of illicit drug overdose deaths have reduced, authorities say the provincial public health emergency surrounding the issue is far from over according to a new BC Coroners Service report.
The annual report states that 981 people have died in 2019 due to suspected illicit drug use, which is down by 36% from the 1,489 overdose deaths recorded in 2018.
Just like 2018, Victoria had the third highest in number of overdose deaths in the province, after Vancouver and Surrey. But last year there were 60 deaths in the provincial capital compared to 96 deaths in 2018.
However the authority notes that the number of deaths last year is nearly the same as that in 2016 when the health emergency was first declared.
“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,” said BC Coroners Service chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry notes that the decreasing number of deaths linked to illicit drug toxicity is a sign that establishing harm-reduction measures like safe consumption sites and naloxone training and availability is a step in the right direction.
“We’re dealing with addiction. And addiction is an illness, a health condition. We are in no way out of this crisis yet,” said Dr. Henry in a statement.
In their report, the BC Coroners Service highlights that fentanyl was detected in post-mortem testing four out of every five deaths in 2019.
Moreover, data from BC Emergency Health Services shows that while the number of illicit deaths has decreased, first responders are still seeing up to 65 calls per day related to non fatal overdoses.
Trends highlighted by the BC Coroners Service report show that over three quarters of overdose deaths involve men, and 71% involve people between ages 30 and 59.
“Eighty-seven per cent of deaths continue to occur indoors, with more people dying on the days immediately following the issuance of income assistance payments than all other days in the year,” reads the report.
First Nations people continue to be overrepresented when it comes to drug overdoses, and a more focused report will be published in conjunction with 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, senior medical officer, mental health and wellness with the First Nations Health Authority, in a statement.
“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.”
Today’s BC Coroners Service report highlights the fact that the number of overdose deaths in 2019 amounts to 2.7 deaths per day.
A statement from Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, reflects optimism at the decrease in deaths and a commitment to continue with harm-reduction policies in an effort to eradicate the public health emergency.
“While I am very encouraged to see the number of overdose deaths going down for the first time since this crisis began, and that fewer families will receive the terrible news of a loved one lost, our government is committed now more than ever to keep our foot firmly on the gas, to keep going and keep acting on what the evidence shows us is working,” reads her statement.