Fentanyl overdose crisis
Mukhina Victoria - Shutterstock

As we hit the one-year mark since Canada declared a public health emergency, it’s hard to imagine anything affecting the world as much as COVID-19.

But today, the illicit drug overdose report released by the BC Coroners Service demonstrates the severity of the worsening opioid crisis coming into 2021.

BC experienced the highest number of drug overdose deaths ever recorded in January.

Due to the toxicity of the drug supply, an average of 5.3 lives were lost each day.

“We lost 165 more family members, friends, co-workers and teammates in January as a result of the toxic illicit drug supply in B.C. This staggering number follows the deadliest year our province has ever experienced when it comes to the overdose crisis,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.

To compare, this is a 104 per cent increase over the number of deaths in January last year.

One in five of the deaths noted extreme levels of fentanyl.

Toxicology results report a greater number of cases with extreme fentanyl concentrations in April 2020 and January 2021 compared to previous months.

Alongside fentanyl, the Coroner’s report noted additional drugs relating to overdose deaths.

The January report recorded fourteen deaths due to carfentanil, which is a more lethal variable of fentanyl, and noted an increase in etizolam – an unlicensed benzodiazepine.

The detection rate of benzodiazepines has rapidly increased from 15 per cent in July 2020 to 49 per cent in January 2021.

Etizolam is particularly dangerous because it increases the likelihood of an overdose due to its respiratory effects.

“The findings suggest that the already unstable drug supply in B.C. is becoming even deadlier, underscoring the urgent need for supervised consumption options, prescribing for safe supply, and accessible treatment and recovery services,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, BC Coroners Service.

No deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.

“Addressing mental health and addictions is a priority of the B.C. government, and we are resolved to continue our work to add more treatment and recovery options, more services and supports for communities throughout B.C., and to work with the federal government to move forward on decriminalization,” said the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.

While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic still persists around the world, in BC, it is both paralleled and underscored by the ongoing and deadly opioid epidemic.

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