Illicit drug deaths across BC reached unprecedented levels this past year.
According to new data released today (Wednesday) by the BC Coroners Service, 2,224 drug toxicity deaths were recorded in 2021, the most ever recorded, and up by 26% over 2020 when there were 1,767.
Northern Health set a record 146 overdose deaths last year, and Interior Health had a record 371.
There were 11 deaths in Quesnel, which was down from 14 the previous year, but the second most ever recorded.
The Cariboo/Chilcotin health area, which includes Williams Lake, saw an increase from 8 to 9 last year, and there were 6 suspected illicit drug deaths in 100 Mile House, which was up from just 2.
The number of suspected overdose deaths last year equates to just over 6 per day.
“The number of people who died from the toxic drug supply last year is unacceptable and we must do more to prevent this tragic loss of life. While the Province is adding new services and supports to our health-care system each week, B.C. faces a rising tide of need,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer.
“We must reduce the fear and shame that leads so many to hide their drug use, avoid services, and use deadly drugs alone. Addiction is not a choice, it’s a health condition. That’s why we continue to push Health Canada to approve our exemption so we can implement decriminalization of people who use drugs throughout B.C. This is a vital step to overcoming the stigma and shame associated with using drugs and helping to connect people with the supports they need.
Fentanyl was detected in 83% of samples tested in 2021. Carfentanil was present in 187 results, almost triple the number recorded in 2020 (66).
Additionally, 50% of samples in December tested positive for etizolam, more than three times the rate of detection in July 2020 (15%). Benzodiazepines create significant challenges for life-saving efforts as naloxone does not reverse its effects.
71% of those who passed away due to a suspected overdose in BC were between the ages of 30-59.
The Coroners Service noted Northern Health has the second-highest drug toxicity rate among all five health authorities in BC at 44.8 per 100,000 people.
Only Vancouver Coastal ranked higher with a mark of 49.2.
Interior Health was at 45.2.
In terms of Health Service Delivery Area, the Northern Interior, which encompasses Prince George-Quesnel-Burns Lake and the Robson Valley has the fourth-highest drug toxicity rate of 51.6.
The Thompson Cariboo Shuswap area was at 61.1 deaths per 100,000.
Vancouver continues to have the highest rate of 72.6.
No deaths were reported from supervised consumption or drug prevention sites.