The illicit drug crisis in BC has not been kind to those between the ages of 30-39.
According to the BC Coroners Service, the number of drug toxicity deaths in this demographic has nearly doubled going from 274 in 2019 to 539 last year.
In an interview with Vista Radio, Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe noted if this public health emergency has taught us anything, it’s that all age groups are equally as vulnerable when using these substances.
“The toxic drug supply doesn’t discriminate on how much money you make or the kind of house you live in. It is an absolutely dangerous time for people using substances and there are really not a lot of options for people who depend on drugs.”
“It’s just a chaotic cocktail right now because the only motivation for those who create these products is to make money. It’s not about the well-being of the people in our communities.”
Every age category in our province saw a spike in overdose-related deaths in 2021 – none more so than those between the ages of 50-59, which went from 405 fatalities in 2020 to 554 last year.
That age group also has the highest death rate in the province at 77.3 per 100,000 people.
BC posted a record 2,224 drug overdose deaths last year – 146 of those were in Northern Health, which was also an all-time high.
When asked if 2022 could be as bad or worse for illicit drug deaths, Lapointe stated that’s a distinct possibility if the status quo remains the same.
“If we keep doing the things we have traditionally done, which is stigmatizing people, arresting people, and shaming them while continuing to ensure they rely on a toxic supply, that is based solely on profit then nothing will change and we will continue to lose members of our community.”
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.
Simply put, the impact of this public health emergency is hitting every corner of the province.
“The drug trade has been a terrible, terrible scourge in our communities. There are areas of our towns where drugs are trafficked freely, nobody wants that and it doesn’t benefit anybody except for somebody living somewhere in a very nice house, making millions of dollars off this misery,” added Lapointe.
A recent study by the BC Centre for Disease Control looked at the drug preference of people in the province and showed of the 621 people surveyed at harm reduction supply distribution sites, nearly 58% had a preference for heroin.
Research epidemiologist Max Ferguson noted people in Northern Health reported the highest percentages of a preference for heroin at around 81%.
However, when it comes to drug toxicity deaths, heroin is no longer on the black market map.
“There is virtually no heroin in our province anymore. There is very, very limited availability on the black market because fentanyl is much cheaper and easier for drug sellers to bring in and make and to distribute,” added Lapointe.
“Heroin actually comes from poppy plants and they have to be grown and they have to be harvested. Fentanyl is a chemical product that is made in a lab and I use the term lab loosely. It is much easier to manufacture.”
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.
– with files from Brody Langager, MyPGNow.com staff