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June 2020 – Yet Another Record For Illicit Drug Overdose Deaths

Fraser Valley – Vancouver/Victoria – The BC Coroners Service has published updated reports on illicit drug toxicity deaths and fentanyl-detected drug deaths for the first six months of 2020, with 175 illicit drug toxicity deaths reported in June.

Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Hope, Maple Ridge and Surrey are all on pace to exceed 2019 numbers and come close to 2018 record numbers.

By local health area, the rates of illicit drug toxicity deaths are highest in Hope, Vancouver, Lillooet, Peace River North, and Grand Forks from 2018 to 2020.

For the second straight month, B.C. is reporting the highest monthly total for deaths due to illicit substances.

“For the second month in a row, this province has experienced the highest number of deaths ever as a result of illicit substances with 175 lives lost, leaving behind grief and frustration while this public health emergency carries on into its fifth year,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, BC Coroners Service. “We know the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people who use drugs, as it has all British Columbians. Access to key harm reduction services has been a challenge and our social networks are smaller.

  • In June 2020, there were 175 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths, representing a 130% increase over the number of deaths in June 2019 (76).
  • From April to June 2020, approximately 15% of cases with fentanyl detected had extreme fentanyl concentrations (exceeding 50 micrograms per litre) as compared to 8% between January 2019 and March 2020.
  • A review of completed cases from 2016-19 indicates that the top-four detected drugs relevant to illicit drug toxicity deaths were fentanyl (83%), cocaine (50%), methamphetamine/amphetamine (34%) and heroin (15%).
  • Vancouver Coastal Health Authority has the highest rate of illicit drug toxicity deaths (33 deaths per 100,000 individuals) followed by the Northern Health Authority (32 deaths per 100,000) in 2020. Overall, the rate in B.C. is 29 deaths per 100,000 in 2020.
  • In the first six months of the year 2020, 70% of those dying were aged 19 to 49, males accounted for 80% of deaths, and 85% of illicit drug toxicity deaths occurred indoors.
  • As reported on July 6 by the First Nations Health Authority, the toll of the illicit drug toxicity crisis on First Nations in B.C. is rising again in 2020, with a 93% increase in deaths among First Nations people in B.C. from January to May of this year, representing 89 deaths of First Nations individuals.
  • First Nations people represent 3.4% of the province’s population, yet accounted for 16% of all illicit drug deaths in B.C. from January to May 2020, a rate of more than five times higher than other B.C. residents.
  • In May, the Provincial Health Services Authority launched its Lifeguard app to help prevent overdoses. The app is a made-in-B.C. resource to reduce risk for people who use substances.
  • According to BC Emergency Health Services, paramedics respond to an average of 2,000 overdose calls per month in British Columbia. However, there has been a recent increase in overdose calls in May and June, with paramedics responding to more than 2,300 calls per month.
  • No deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.

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