Illicit drug overdoses killed 5 people every day in November

IN the midst of dual public health emergencies, the BC Coroners Service continues to urge extreme caution due to the increasingly toxic illicit drug supply in British Columbia.

The BC Coroners Service reports 153 suspected drug toxicity deaths in November 2020, an 89% increase over November 2019 (81), and a 7% decrease over the number of deaths in October 2020 (164). The latest data is equal to five people per day losing their lives to illicit drug overdoses.

“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 Lisa Lapointe, Chief Coroner. “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. I extend my sincere condolences to all of those grieving a family member, friend or colleague due to this disease.”

There have been 1,548 illicit drug deaths to date in 2020 in B.C., and the number of deaths in each health authority is at or near the highest ever monthly totals. Toxicology results suggest a greater number of cases with extreme fentanyl concentrations from April to November 2020 compared with previous months.

“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. Providing those with substance use disorder access to pharmaceutical alternatives will be of immense benefit to reduce the harms and suffering resulting from the ‘for-profit’ illicit drug market. Additionally, as recommended by coroners’ inquest juries and death review panels, an accessible, evidence-based and accountable treatment and recovery system is desperately needed to support those seeking these supports on their path to wellness.”

Key preliminary findings of these drug death reports follow. Data are subject to change:

* In November 2020, there were 153 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths. This represents an 89% increase over the number of deaths in November 2019 (81) and a 7% decrease over the number of deaths in October 2020 (164).

* The number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in November 2020 equals about 5.1 deaths per day.

* In 2020, 70% of those dying were aged 30 to 59. Males have accounted for 81% of deaths in 2020 to date.

* The townships experiencing the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2020 are Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria.

* Illicit drug toxicity death rates in males continued to increase in November 2020 while female rates have declined from October.

* Illicit drug toxicity death rates among individuals aged 19 to 59 have been trending downward over several months. However, rates among those aged 60 and over have been trending upward. Rates among those under 18 remain low.

* Island Health illicit drug toxicity death rates have been trending downward over the past several months. However, all other health authority rates remain high.

* Fentanyl or its analogues have continued to be detected in over 80% of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2020. Cocaine and methamphetamine are the next most commonly detected drugs.

* In 2020, 55% of illicit drug toxicity deaths have occurred in private residences.

* No deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.

SHEILA Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, said in a statement: “We are facing a double tragedy in British Columbia and across Canada, where the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the effects of the overdose crisis and made everything worse. Heartbreakingly, 153 people lost their lives in November due to a dramatically more toxic drug supply in B.C. These are our parents, children, friends and neighbours in communities across B.C.

“Before the pandemic, my predecessor, Judy Darcy, along with our front-line partners, did hard work to start building a system that brought overdose deaths down for the first time since 2012. COVID-19 has set us back with a dramatic spike in drug toxicity. I am committed to building on our unrelenting response to the overdose crisis, finding new ways to separate people from the poisoned drug supply, building more treatment and recovery beds, and moving forward on decriminalization to reduce stigma.

“Just as there are many paths into addiction and mental health challenges, there are also many paths out. People need options and they need our compassion.

“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. 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.”