B.C. records deadliest-ever month for drug overdoses
Published Thursday, June 11, 2020 11:15AM PDT Last Updated Thursday, June 11, 2020 7:11PM PDT
VICTORIA -- More drug users died in British Columbia last month than in any other month in the province's history.
Approximately 170 people – an average of 5.5 per day – died of suspected illicit drug toxicity in May, nearly doubling the 88 people who died in May 2019, according to a new report from the BC Coroners Service.
The report summarizes all unintentional deaths attributed to illegal drugs in B.C. in 2020.
"Illicit drug toxicity death rates in B.C. remain the highest for any jurisdiction in Canada, and every region in B.C. has been impacted," said chief coroner Lisa Lapointe in a statement Thursday.
While every region in the province reported death rates at or near record levels in May, Vancouver Island suffered an especially deadly month.
The Island Health authority surpassed its prior deadliest-month record by 36 per cent, with 38 deaths in May compared to 28 deaths each in January and March 2018.
"It is both sad and deeply frustrating to see the number of illicit drug deaths reach a new high in B.C. four years after the declaration of a public health emergency," said Lapointe.
"Despite the many collective efforts directed at this crisis, the toxic drug supply continues to take the lives of our family members, friends and colleagues."
Approximately 119 of B.C.'s 170 drug toxicity victims in May had fentanyl in their bodies, while autopsies also showed more victims presenting with extremely high concentrations of the synthetic opioid, according to the report.
"The drug supply is unpredictable and highly toxic, and has led to a sustained increase in fatal and non-fatal overdoses from smoking and injection in recent months," said Dr. Jane Buxton, harm reduction lead for the BC Centre for Disease Control.
"COVID-19 has added challenges and people may be feeling more isolated and anxious, but it's important to continue to buddy up, or access local overdose prevention and supervised consumption services during this time," she added.
The coroners service says 80 per cent of those who died of illegal drug overdoses in 2020 were men, while 70 per cent were between the ages of 19 and 49.
Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria continue to bear the brunt of the overdose crisis.
The Island Health region has recorded 70 fentanyl-detected deaths in the first five months of 2020, nearly half of the 145 fentanyl-detected deaths recorded in all of last year.
Across B.C., 554 people have died of accidental illicit drug toxicity in 2020.
The illicit drug toxicity death total of 170 for May 2020 surpasses the previous high of 161 reported in December 2016.
May marks the third consecutive month B.C. has recorded more than 100 illicit drug toxicity deaths.