BC’s toxic illicit drug crisis continues to take hold.
An estimated 165 British Columbians lost their lives in March due to drug toxicity, with nine of those deaths recorded in Victoria, according to the BC Coroners Service.
Nine local families lost a loved one amid the ongoing crisis, pushing the province’s illicit drug death toll to more than 9,500 since January 2016.
Latest data released Tuesday paints March as BC’s 18th consecutive month in which over 150 lives were lost to illicit drugs, with 165 deaths equating to around five per day.
While it represents the second-highest number of lives lost in the month of March, it’s also 44 fewer deaths than the 209 reported in January, the Coroners Service says.
A decrease may be encouraging to BC’s Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe, but she’s still pointing to the “enormous” risks associated with the illicit drug market.
“We encourage people using substances to exercise great care, use only a small amount first, and make sure someone is nearby to provide emergency aid if necessary,” said Lapointe.
“The volatile illicit market remains unreliable and unpredictable, and continues to take the lives of loved ones across the province.”
BC officials say expedited toxicological testing shows fentanyl detection is rising, with 94% of returned samples testing positive—proving the volatility of the drug supply.
And while every health authority in the province endures illicit drug deaths, they say the cities with the highest number of fatalities continue to be Victoria, Vancouver and Surrey.
In March, female illicit drug toxicity death rates remained relatively high, as male rates decreased, against an uptick in deaths among those aged 40 to 59.
“Toxic illicit drugs are taking lives and inflicting devastating impacts on people from all walks of life,” added Lapointe.
“Along with the obvious tragedy of fatal outcomes, survivors of drug-toxicity emergency events often experience serious long-term health challenges.”
Lapointe says she’s hopeful implementing the Death Review Panel’s recommendation to rapidly expand access to safer supply across BC will help diminish the harms people are currently experiencing.