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“Fentanyl continues to be the primary driver,” : BC Chief Coroner on illicit drug death numbers

We’re not even done 2020 yet and already it’s been a deadlier year for illicit drug deaths when compared to 2019.

With 1,068 people losing their lives in the first eight months, BC surpassed the previous year’s total of 983.

BC Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe. (Photo supplied by BC Coroners Service)

In an exclusive interview with Vista Radio, BC Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe stated that fentanyl continues to be front and centre.

“What we continue to see is that fentanyl is the primary driver of deaths in the province due to illicit drugs, about 85% last year of all drug overdoses involved fentanyl and about 50% also involved cocaine.”

According to the Coroners Service August illicit drugs report, approximately 14% of cases between April and August had extreme fentanyl concentrations as compared to 8% from January of 2019 to March of this year.

What is also troublesome is more deaths where multiple substances are detected have been occurring, making it harder for Naloxone to be administered.

“Fentanyl and opioids respond to Naloxone while cocaine and methamphetamines do not, so, where you have a mixed drug overdose it can be hard to revive somebody based on the substances they have used,” mentioned Lapointe.

Northern Health continues to have the highest rate of illicit drug deaths in BC at 40 per 100,000 people.

The northern region has seen 80 deaths so far this year, including 29 in Prince George.

Men have accounted for 81% of all illicit drug deaths in the province.

Lapointe has a couple of theories as to why men are dying more frequently.

“We see overall that men engage in more risky behaviors. More men die from accidents and suicides than women and we also believe that women have a protective factor where they are with somebody else while using.”

Speaking of Naloxone, Lapointe stressed the importance of friends and family members of drug users to have it in their presence at all times.

“Right now, the drug supply is so toxic and so unpredictable that we are encouraging friends and family of those who use substances to reach out.”

“However, this can be very challenging because as you know, there is still so much stigma around substance use.”

Would it be beneficial if more members of the general public had access to Naloxone kits and know how to use them?

“It would help if the individual who was using the substance was in the company with a member of the general public so what we find is that most people are dying indoors, we don’t have people dying on the street corners of public places, these are people dying in their own homes or their friend’s homes.”

“The distribution of Naloxone across the province is tremendously better than it ever has been. We have seen a tremendous push to get Naloxone out to communities and front-line service providers so that those who need it can access it,” added Lapointe.

In an August interview, a non-profit group called the POUNDS project in Prince George noted that the border closures created a more contaminated drug supply while facilities like needle exchanges and overdose prevention sites saw a reduction in services and hours, thus creating a perfect storm for overdoses.

Lapointe agreed with this finding.

“Drug checking services were not as available, Naloxone was not as available for people and absolutely as you mentioned, the overdose prevention sites and supervised consumption sites had reduced hours because of reduced staff.”

The Coroners Service indicated in its latest findings no deaths have taken place at overdose prevention or supervised consumption sites.

147 illicit drug deaths occurred province-wide last month.

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