PRELIMINARY reporting released by the BC Coroners Service shows that the toxic, unregulated drug supply claimed the lives of at least 211 British Columbians in January, with the total number of deaths surpassing 200 for the eighth time in the past 16 months.
“Once again, our agency is reporting on preventable losses of life in heart-breaking numbers,” said Lisa Lapointe, Chief Coroner. “We are nearing the seventh anniversary of the declaration of the public-health emergency into substance-related harms, and the drug-poisoning crisis continues to cost lives and communities at an unprecedented rate. Toxic drugs pose a constant and ever-present danger to anyone who uses drugs. Anyone using any substance purchased on the unregulated illicit drug market is at risk of serious harm or death.”
Evidence collected through coroner investigations reflects the extreme risks posed by toxic drugs throughout B.C. While the largest number of deaths continues to be reported in the major urban areas of Vancouver, Surrey and Greater Victoria, the health service delivery areas with the highest rates of death in January were Vancouver, North Vancouver Island, Northern Interior, Central Vancouver Island and Northwest.
By health authority, the highest rates of death were in Vancouver Coastal Health (64 deaths per 100,000 individuals) and Island Health (52 per 100,000). Overall, the rate of death in B.C. in January was 47 per 100,000 individuals. Of note, in 2016, the year the public-health emergergency was declared, the rate of death was 20.5.
The number of suspected illicit drug toxicity related deaths in January equates to an average of about 6.8 lives lost per day. Consistent with BC Coroners Service reporting throughout the nearly seven-year-old public-health emergency, seven out of every 10 decedents was between 30 and 59, and nearly 80% were male.
At least 11,195 deaths have been caused by illicit drug toxicity since the public-health emergency was first declared in April 2016. There continues to be no evidence that prescribed safe supply is contributing to illicit drug deaths.
Lapointe said: “Recent announcements made by the Province that are focused on increasing treatment and recovery options where and when people need them are tremendously encouraging. Members of coroners’ inquests and death review panels have consistently recommended a continuum of care that includes evidence-based treatment options, access to safer supply, and other essential harm-reduction tools to end this crisis, including drug-checking, overdose prevention sites, and the need to eliminate sitgma and criminalization. All of these key responses are necessary to address the tremendous and tragic loss of life our province continues to experience.”
She added: “It is estimated that there are more than 80,000 people in our province with opioid use disorder. Thousands of others regularly use stimulants such as cocaine. All of these members of our communities are currently at risk of sudden death. As noted by the all-party Select Standing Committee on Health in its November 2022 report: ‘…individuals and communities across the province need to come together with open minds and open hearts to turn the tide on this public health emergency.’ ”
Additional key preliminary findings are below. Data is subject to change as additional toxicology results are received:
* In 2023, 69% of those dying were 30 to 59, and 77% were male.
* The townships experiencing the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2023 are Vancouver, Surrey, and Greater Victoria.
* By health authority, in 2023 the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths were in Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health authorities (68 and 60 deaths, respectively), making up 61% of all such deaths during 2023.
* By Local Health Area, in 2022, the highest rates were in Vancouver – Centre North, Terrace, Merritt, Hope, and Prince George.
* Two deaths occurred at an overdose prevention site (OPS); one in 2022 and one in 2023.