At least 162 people have lost their lives to toxic drug overdose in October bringing the death toll of the overdose epidemic to 1,386 so far this year, according to the latest report from the BC Coroners Service.
This means more than five people overdosed to death each day of the month in October.
The latest report also brings with it revised counts of the number of people who died in prior months this year, meaning more people have lost their lives to the overdose crisis than previously thought.
June 2020 was the deadliest month for overdoses ever recorded, after 185 people died.
“This is the fifth month this year with more than 160 suspected illicit drug deaths reported to the BC Coroners Service and more than double the number of people who died as a result of a toxic drug supply in October 2019,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, in a statement.
“Challenges during COVID-19, such as access to key harm-reduction services and the toxic drug supply, including the extreme concentration of illicit fentanyl, are resulting in continuing significant and tragic loss of life across the province.”
So far this year, 115 people have overdosed to death in Victoria, surpassing the overdose death toll of every year recorded.
The capital city remains the third deadliest for the overdose crisis in the province, after Vancouver and Surrey.
In 2020, fentanyl either alone or in combination with other drugs was detected in 83 per cent of all drug overdose deaths.
Additionally, between April and Oct 2020, approximately 14 per cent of cases had extreme fentanyl concentrations, compared to 8 per cent from January 2019 to March 2020.
A review of cases between 2017 and 2020 shows that the top four drugs found in drug overdose deaths were fentanyl (87 per cent), cocaine (50 per cent), methamphetamine /amphetamine (35 per cent), and other opioids (30 per cent).
“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a devastating effect on the overdose crisis in B.C.,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, in the statement.
“Exacerbating this is the highly toxic drug supply that exists in our communities right now. Now more than ever, we must remove the stigma of drug use and remove the shame people feel, which keeps them from seeking help or telling friends and family.”
No deaths have been reported at safe consumption or overdose prevention sites.
In September, Henry issued a provincial health order allowing nurses to prescribe drugs to at-risk populations in an effort to separate people from the increasingly toxic street drug supply.
Registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses will be adhering to new standards through the availability of additional training, education, and access to expert consultation.
In addition, the Office of the Provincial Health Officer, Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and the Ministry of Health are working to develop an updated policy directive for prescribers and health authorities.
This policy will expand the eligibility criteria of prescription drugs to include individuals with opioid-use disorder, other substance-use disorders or individuals with a history of accessing the toxic street drug supply who are at high risk of overdose and other drug-related harms.
It would also expand the number of access points from which these medications can be dispensed to include health authorities and community pharmacies.