Victoria/Fraser Valley – Figures released by the British Columbia Coroners Service identify 155 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths in February, the 11th consecutive month in which the province has recorded more than 100 lives lost.
The total number of deaths is the largest ever recorded in the month of February and an increase of 107% over the total number of deaths recorded in February 2020. The average of 5.5 lives lost each day makes February the second consecutive month in which the average number of daily deaths was above 5. The 1,724 deaths recorded in 2020 work out to an average of 4.7 deaths a day.
Chilliwack and Abbotsford, albeit early in 2021, are on yet another record pace for numbers of deaths via illegal drugs. Just days ago, Chilliwack was issued their second overdose alert of the year by Fraser Health.
Also of note, 15% of the lives lost in 2021 were people 60 years of age and older and 40% were over age 50. These increasing numbers continue a trend that has been observed in older age cohorts over the last several years.
Increased variability and toxicity in the drug supply continues to significantly contribute to the overall number of suspected deaths. Carfentanil, a more lethal analogue of fentanyl, was detected in 18 of the 155 deaths (12%), an increase from the January total of 14, the largest monthly figure recorded since April 2019.
Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, has released the following statement regarding the BC Coroners Service’s latest report on illicit drug toxicity deaths for February 2021:
“In February, we lost 155 people to a toxic illicit drug supply in B.C. They were taken too soon. It’s a heartbreaking loss. Front-line workers, caregivers, families and peers deserve our gratitude as they respond to overdoses and care for loved ones during a pandemic that has made everything worse.
“We know people are hurting now, and we must do more to stop this terrible surge in overdose deaths. Stigma and criminalization are driving people to use alone, and the pandemic is pushing people further into isolation. The illicit drug supply chain is dramatically more toxic and, tragically, more lethal. The effects of two public health emergencies have taken an immense toll.
“In 2019, before the pandemic, we brought overdose deaths down for the first time since 2012. According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, our collective efforts to add more supervised consumption services, increased access to naloxone and treatment options made a difference and saved lives. We brought deaths down before and we’ll do it again.
“Despite the enormous challenges ahead, our government is committed to supporting and separating people from the poisoned drug supply. We are resolved to continue our work to add more treatment and recovery options, more services and supports for communities throughout B.C., and to work with the federal government to move forward on decriminalization. We are going to continue building the culturally safe, evidence-based system of mental health and addictions care people deserve.”