Toxic illicit drugs are claiming the lives of more females in British Columbia than ever before, according to the BC Coroners Service.
Pointing to April 2022 statistics, it says 26% of the estimated 161 lives lost that month to illicit drugs were female—continuing a shifting trend that began earlier this year.
Historically, men have accounted for around 80% of illicit drug-related deaths, the coroner’s service said Thursday, noting deaths in older age categories are also on the rise.
Its latest data paints April as BC’s 19th consecutive month in which over 150 lives were lost to illicit drugs, with the 161 deaths equating to around five per day.
While the threat to substance users remains across BC, those on Vancouver Island and in northern areas remain particularly at risk, the coroner’s service explains.
It says the rates of death in those two health authorities are higher than in 2021 when record numbers of lives were lost throughout the province.
In April, 32 deaths were recorded in Island Health, including 15 in Victoria.
That means more local families lost a loved one amid the ongoing drug crisis, pushing the province’s illicit drug death toll to over 9,700 since January 2016.
Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe says data for the first four months of 2022 shows BC is on the path to “yet another tragic milestone in terms of lives lost.”
Earlier this year, a drug toxicity death review panel released a report on measures to reduce the number of people dying, with access to a safer drug supply listed as the most critical life-saving need.
“I am hopeful that the implementation of the panel’s recommendations, on an urgent basis, will stop these preventable deaths,” added Lapointe, urging drug users to never use alone.
“Anyone using illicit substances, whether they are regular or occasional drug users and whether they know their dealer or not, is currently at risk from the unpredictable, unregulated supply,” she said.
On May 31st, the province of BC said it was removing criminal penalties for people who possess small amounts of certain illicit substances starting next year.
The three-year exemption comes into effect January 31st, 2023, meaning adults who have 2.5 grams or less of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine or MDMA for personal use will no longer be arrested, charged or have their drugs seized.