Monday, June 17, 2024

Nearly 600 British Columbians dead from drug poisoning in the first three months of this year


British Columbia is just over seven years into a public-health emergency regarding toxic drug poisoning that has led to rampant and tragic loss in lives. 

Over 11,800 people have died since the emergency was declared on April 14th, 2016.

Now, just over three months into 2023, the BC Coroners Service has reported that 596 people have succumbed to the toxic drug crisis in BC.

This marks the second highest loss of life in the three month span — 2022 being having the highest fatality rate with 599 people dying of toxic drug poisoning.

“On April 14th, we once again observed the anniversary of the longest public-health emergency in our province’s history,” said Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe. 

“Since the emergency was first declared, more than 11,000 people have lost their lives due to the unregulated drug supply.”

“This is a crisis of incomprehensible scale, and I extend my deepest condolences to everyone who has experienced the loss of someone they loved.”

January saw 222 people’s lives lost to toxic drug supply, February had 177 deaths and March had 197 deaths, according to the BC Coroners Service. 

The equivalent of 6.4 people have died every day so far in 2023 due to this crisis. 

2022 was the deadliest year thus far in the public-health emergency with 2,314 people losing their lives. So far, 2023 is on track to near or surpass this tragic death rate.

According to the BC Coroners Service, drug toxicity continues to be the leading cause in unnatural deaths in British Columbia — even surpassing all homicides, suicides, motor vehicle incidents, drownings and fire-related deaths combined.

During recent months, the province has decriminalized people carrying small amounts of drugs and tried to ramp up their harm reduction approach to the crisis. These efforts will likely take time to have an effect on the numbers of people losing their lives.

There is no evidence that would suggest safe supply sites have contributed to the number of deaths.

“It is clear that an urgent response to this crisis is required and overdue,” Lapointe said. 

“Recommendations made by multidisciplinary experts on two Coroners Service Death Review Panels and the Province’s Select Standing Committee on Health into the crisis support the urgent implementation of a safe, regulated supply of substances for those at risk of serious harm or death, as well as provincial standards for the provision of evidence-based treatment and recovery services, along with requirements for reporting outcomes.” 

“There should not be a dichotomy between access to life-saving safer supply and access to life-saving treatment options.” 

Greater Victoria remains the city with the third highest death rate in BC, just behind Vancouver and Surrey.

On April 14th, 2023, Moms Stop The Harm (MSTH), an advocacy group calling on the government to do more for those suffering from addiction, gathered at the Ministry of Health building on Blanshard Street in downtown Victoria to protest.

(Colin Smith Takes Pics)
(Colin Smith Takes Pics)

They brought signs with them, calling for better policies and more funding for recovery centres, safe supply and harm reduction initiatives. 

Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, released a statement regarding the overwhelming loss of life in the first three months of 2023 on April 18th, four days after the MSTH protest. In the statement she says the government is doing all they can and working on additional policies. 

She also expressed her condolences to those who have lost loved ones to this crisis. 

“Our government is urgently working to expand supports and programs to deliver the integrated mental-health and addiction services that British Columbians need,” said Whiteside. 

“There is no one-size-fits-all model, and we are continuing to build a system that provides the right care and support at the right time and place. That’s why we are making $1 billion in targeted investments through Budget 2023 to build a system of mental-health and addictions care that didn’t exist prior to 2017.”

“The toxic drug crisis continues to devastate families and communities throughout the province, and I remain steadfast in my commitment to do everything possible to turn the tide and end this public-health emergency.”

“Our government won’t stop working until we have an integrated system of mental-health and addictions services in place that is available for people wherever and whenever they need it.”

Curtis Blandy

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