VICTORIA -- Five people per day died after using street drugs in British Columbia last month, continuing a trend that has health officials urging users to exercise “extreme caution” with the province’s illicit drug supply.

The BC Coroners Service released the latest monthly overdose statistics Monday, showing there were 153 suspected drug toxicity deaths in November, an 89 per cent increase from the 81 drug deaths recorded in November 2019.

"Tragically, as we reach the end of 2020, our province is facing a record-breaking year for lives lost due to a toxic illicit drug supply," said B.C.’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe.

"In the five years of this public health emergency, more than 6,500 families have experienced the grief and sadness of losing a loved one to the challenging medical condition of drug addiction,” Lapointe said. “I extend my sincere condolences to all of those grieving a family member, friend or colleague due to this disease."

The latest numbers bring the province’s 2020 death toll from street drugs to 1,548 people. Extremely high concentrations of fentanyl are to blame in many of the deaths, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the problem by restricting access to safe-consumption sites, treatment facilities and outreach services.

"The impacts of COVID-19 have been deadly for those experiencing problematic substance use," Lapointe said. "Ensuring access to critical harm reduction measures including naloxone, supervised consumption sites, overdose prevention sites and drug checking services are essential if we want to prevent future deaths.”

Most of B.C.’s drug deaths are occurring in Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria, with men accounting for 81 per cent of the deaths in 2020.

Fentanyl and fentanyl-like substances were present in 80 per cent of the province’s drug toxicity deaths in 2020, followed by cocaine and methamphetamine.

B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson said the province is facing a “double tragedy” with the overdose crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the effects of the overdose crisis and made everything worse,” Malcolmson said in a statement Monday.

"There isn't a single family or person in the province who hasn't been impacted in some way by the two public health emergencies,” she added. “One life lost is one too many. I'm committed to continuing to connect more people to treatment and recovery services and save more lives."