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BC’s 50+ population account for 39% of illicit drug deaths this year

(Files by Brendan Pawliw-MyPGNow)

The illicit drug crisis in BC has not been kind to those aged 50 and older.

According to the BC Coroners Service, 39% of all overdose deaths this year are from this age group, a trend that has been ticking upward over the past six years.

Chief Coroner, Lisa Lapointe told Vista Radio the pandemic has led to some unintended consequences.

“Many people are working at home while many others lost jobs because of the pandemic and of course, the isolation from families and the inability to travel or be out and socialize with friends has been very, very hard on people.”

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“We do believe that age group, men in their 50s’ and now ’60s have really borne the brunt of that impact. That is an age group that we are seeing a steady increase in terms of the number of people dying.”

Province-wide, 680 people have died from illicit drugs so far this year, with 256 of those occurring in people between the ages of 50 and 69.

The toxicity of BC’s drug supply continues to rise as Fentanyl has been detected in 86% of all deaths this year.

However, the detection rate of benzodiazepines has rapidly increased from 15% in July of 2020 to 57% as of the end of last month.

In addition, between 2018-2020, fentanyl was detected in 87% of all drug toxicity deaths followed by cocaine (49%), methamphetamine (38.6%), and other opioids (31%).

Lapointe stated the shift to fentanyl for those in the “black market” didn’t occur by accident.

“We saw the shift from heroin to fentanyl because it was much easier to make and to smuggle in. We are now seeing Etizolam showing up, a product that is not lawful to prescribe in Canada but is showing up on the illicit market.”

“It’s about getting the cheapest product on the market at the cheapest price to the supplier to make the most money from the purchaser. It is purely a profit-driven market and not about safety.”

Northern Health recorded seven fatalities in April with one of those occurring in Prince George.

So far in 2021, 48 people have lost their lives to illicit drugs within our health region, with seventeen of those taking place in the northern capital.

Province-wide, at least 176 lives were lost in April due to toxic illicit drugs – the deadliest April on record as well as a 43% spike in the number of deaths when compared to the same month in 2020.

Northern Health continues to have the highest drug toxicity rate out of all the health authorities in BC at 50 per 100,000 residents – four points ahead of Vancouver Coastal at 46.

In terms of the Health Service Delivery Area, the Northern Interior, which encompasses PG-Quesnel-Burns Lake and the Robson Valley has the seventh-highest drug toxicity death rate at 42.7.

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