Fentanyl overdose crisis

The BC Coroner has reported that, since the beginning of January, 851 BC residents have died due to a toxic drug supply.

According to the report, an average of 5.2 opioid-related deaths occurred every day in May.

The 851 lives lost between January and May of this year are the most reported opioid-related deaths ever recorded in the beginning of a calendar year.

To put that in perspective, between January and May 2017, 704 deaths were reported; this new record is an increase of 21%.

The overall rate of deaths due to toxic illicit drugs in British Columbia now stands at 39.3 per 100,000 residents.

Every health authority in the province has recorded a death rate greater than 33.6 per 100,000 residents, the previous provincial high established in 2020.

The communities experiencing the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2021 are Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria.

(Courtesy of BC’s Coroner Report)

“As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to wind down, we must turn our attention to combating B.C.’s other public health emergency with the same sense of urgency,” Lapointe said.

“We need to ensure that safe alternatives to toxic illicit drugs are available throughout the province, and that we are taking meaningful steps to reduce stigma and offer substance users access to the supports they need and are seeking.”

Fentanyl and Carfentanil, a more potent analogue of fentanyl, has been commonly detected in 75 deaths in 2021 after being identified in 65 investigations in all of 2020.

The BC Coroner’s report also detected benzodiazepines in 60% of the opioid-related deaths.

BC’s Coroner warned that benzodiazepines create significant life-saving challenges for first responders when used in combination with opioids.

Government Response

In April, the BC government announced a $45 million investment into harm reduction services and applied for a federal exemption from Health Canada to decriminalize personal possession of drugs in BC.

Officials for the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and Health Canada have been working on an agreement to apply for a provincewide exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

No decision has yet to be announced from Health Canada.

See also: BC government looks to decriminalize personal drug possession

Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, released a statement regarding the shocking news of the 851 deaths, telling people living in BC to take every precaution if they use opioids.

She also said that more people are dying from smoking and/or inhaling drugs than from injecting.

Malcolmson said it’s important carry naloxone, and encouraged those who use to visit supervised consumption site or an overdose prevention site.

“People who use drugs recreationally and regularly are all at high risk. If you plan to use – whether at home, at a party or event, know how to stay safer – this can mean the difference between life and death,” said Malcolmson.

“Many are eager to socialize as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, and people must be aware illicit drugs are more toxic and unpredictable than ever before. The drugs you might use today are not the same as they were one or two years ago.”

Leaders from the official Opposition also commented on the shocking numbers from the BC Coroner’s report.

BC Liberal Critic for Mental Health and Addiction, Trevor Halford, called on the NDP to provide better services amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, including culturally appropriate services for First Nations who continue to be disproportionately affected.

“Urgent action is needed. Month after month, too many lives are lost – and too many loved ones are forced to mourn a tragic, irreplaceable loss to their families and communities,” said Halford.

“The current crisis in B.C. cannot simply be blamed on the impacts of the pandemic. It’s also due to the lack of proper support available in our province. Nearly 28 per cent of all opioid-related deaths in Canada are in British Columbia – demonstrating just how severe the crisis is in our province, and how we need more resources to save lives.”

Harm Reduction Services

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

In Victoria, harm reduction services are available to anyone, anonymously.

Overdose prevention units, supervised consumption sites, and testing services are available throughout Vancouver Island.

Visit this database to see where you can access harm reduction services on Vancouver Island.

In Victoria, a testing service recently opened, the first of its kind in BC.

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