(Files by Brendan Pawliw, My Prince George Now)
For the nineteenth consecutive month, BC has recorded at least 100 illicit drug deaths.
According to the BC Coroners Service, 333 combined fatalities were tallied in August (181) and September (152).
Northern Health recorded 22 deaths over the two-month span, with eight of those in Prince George. Interior Health recorded 64.
“Once again, we are reporting record numbers of deaths in our province due to the toxic illicit drug supply,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner.
“The tremendous loss being felt by families and communities across B.C. as they mourn loved ones lost far too soon is heartbreaking.”
So far in 2021, 97 people in the Northern region have lost their lives to illicit drugs, 35 of which took place in the northern capital. In Interior Health, 258 have lost their lives.
In addition, 227 residents in the north have died while using illicit substances since January of 2020 – that equates to about 11 deaths per month.
There have been 1,534 drug toxicity deaths in BC between January and September of this year.
This is the highest number of deaths ever found in the first nine months of a calendar year and represents a 24% spike when compared to the same time frame in 2020.
71% of deaths this year alone are from those between the ages of 30-59.
The Coroners Service noted Northern Health continues to have the second-highest drug toxicity rate among all five health authorities in BC at 42.8 per 100,000 – nearly two points behind Vancouver Coastal at 44.6.
In terms of Health Service Delivery Area, the Northern Interior, which encompasses PG-Quesnel-Burns Lake and the Robson Valley has a drug toxicity death rate of 40.9, which is the sixth-highest in BC.
Vancouver is miles ahead with a rate of 65.6 – a difference of about 25 points.
“Our province is in the sixth year of this public health emergency, and the death rate due to toxic drugs has never been higher,” said Lapointe.
“Urgent action on a number of fronts is required, including much broader access to safe supply, more readily available and efficient drug-checking services, and a shift from a law-enforcement focus to a health-centered approach. The Province’s application to the federal government to decriminalize possession of illicit drugs for personal use is an essential step to address the drug toxicity crisis. Criminalizing those who use substances has done nothing to address this complex health issue and has resulted in greater suffering and marginalization. How many more deaths are we willing to accept to maintain drug policies and laws that have no basis in evidence?”
The detection rate of benzodiazepines has rapidly increased from 15% of samples in July 2020 to 51% in September 2021.
Since a public health emergency was declared in 2016, over 8,000 British Columbians have died from illicit drugs.
Here is a breakdown of the number of drug overdose deaths by age group:
- Under-19 – 22
- 19-29 – 213
- 30-39 – 375
- 40-49 – 334
- 50-59 – 383
- 60- 69 – 185
- 70-79 – 21
- Unknown – 1