Fentanyl overdose crisis
Mukhina Victoria - Shutterstock

For the second month in a row, B.C. has recorded the highest number of illicit drug overdose deaths in the province’s history.

The most recent BC Coroners Service report states that a total of 175 people died of drug overdose in June 2020, slightly surpassing the province’s drug death toll in May.

“Today’s report clearly shows us that the tragedy of overdose deaths from the toxic street drug supply in B.C. continues to escalate,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in a statement.

“While much effort has been made to reduce harm, remove stigma and provide the care that people living with addiction need, the impacts of the pandemic have made the situation dire for too many.”

B.C. has now recorded four consecutive months with over 100 people dying from drug overdose. So far this year, 728 people have lost their lives to drugs.

Once again, fentanyl and analogues accounted for the majority of overdose deaths last month, with 82.8 per cent of people having those drugs detected in their system at time of death.

Further, most recent post-mortem toxicology testing data suggests an increase in the # of cases with extreme fentanyl concentrations—exceeding 50 micrograms per litre—in April, May and June 2020 compared with previous months.

Victoria, once again, had the third highest number of overdose deaths in the province, after Vancouver and Surrey.

67 people in Victoria have lost their lives to drugs in the first six months of 2020. To put this into perspective, 61 people overdosed on drugs in all of 2019 in the city.

The BC Coroners Service has also created maps that help visualize how much deadlier this year has been for drug overdoses compared to last year:

According to chief coroner Lisa Lapointe says an unusually toxic supply of illegal drugs are partly to blame for the spike in deaths this year, but the epidemic is not entirely caused by opioids.

“It is clear this is not just an opioid epidemic, with cocaine and methamphetamine/ amphetamine detected in many drug deaths we investigate,” said Lapointe in the statement.

“However, we do know that illicit fentanyl remains the most significant driver in the tragic number of deaths our communities are experiencing.”

Lapointe further adds that the province has been monitoring for the presence of hydromorphone in post-mortem toxicity results and there is no evidence of a link between increased prescriptions and the increase in deaths. This indicates that those who have access to a safe supply of drugs are not at risk of overdosing.

Indigenous people continue to be disproportionately impacted by the overdose crisis, with 89 First Nations people dying from drugs in 2020.

First Nations people represent 3.4 per cent of the province’s population, yet accounted for 16 per cent of all illicit drug deaths in B.C. from January to May 2020.

Provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry has long advocated for the establishment of harm-reduction measures like safe consumption sites, and naloxone training and availability.

No deaths have ever been recorded at supervised consumption sites in B.C.

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