BC sees record-high number of overdose deaths for second straight month

Jul 16 2020, 12:47 pm

For the second straight month, BC recorded its highest-ever monthly total for deaths due to
illicit substances, the BC Coroners Office said on Thursday.

In total, there were 175 illicit drug toxicity deaths reported in June, up from the previous record of 171, just one month prior.

Statistics like these are “leaving behind grief and frustration while this public health emergency carries on into its fifth year,” said BC Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe. “We know the COVID pandemic has impacted people who use drugs, as it has all British Columbians.”

In particular, she said, “access to key harm reduction services has been a challenge and our social networks are smaller.”

The report “clearly shows us that the tragedy of overdose deaths from the toxic street drug
supply in BC continues to escalate,” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. “While much effort has been made to reduce harm, remove stigma and provide the care that people living with addiction need, the impacts of the pandemic have made the situation dire for too many ͞We remain focused on this critical work and will not let up.”

Once again, post-mortem toxicology testing data published in this most recent report suggests an increase in the number of cases with extreme fentanyl concentrations (exceeding 50 micrograms per litre) in April, May and June 2020 compared with previous months, the report said.

“The number of lives lost over more than four years of a public health emergency is heartbreaking,” said Dr. Perry Kendall, co-interim executive director at the BC Centre on Substance Use.

͞Kendall said it is “quite clear what needs to be done: invest in a public health approach to substance use that promotes the health and equity of people who use drugs. This must include not only decriminalization, but also pharmaceutical alternatives to the toxic drug supply.”

These, — alongside investments in an evidence-based substance-use system of care to support recovery, treatment and harm reduction – “are the critical steps needed to finally end this emergency,” said Kendall.

The report noted that so far in 2020, there have been 728 illicit drug deaths to date in 2020 in BC and the number of deaths in each health authority is at or near the highest monthly totals ever recorded.

Eric ZimmerEric Zimmer

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