For the first time since June of 2022, BC recorded its lowest monthly total of unregulated drug deaths in August tallying 174.
That’s an average of 5.6 lives lost per day according to the Coroners Service.
Northern Health recorded 11 fatalities last month, however, none of those happened in the Northwest.
“We are continuing to lose members of our communities in heartbreaking numbers as a result of the toxicity of the illicit drug market,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner. “No town, neighbourhood or family is immune from this crisis and as the years of this public-health emergency go by, more and more British Columbians are experiencing the devastating loss of a friend, colleague or family member to the illicit drug supply.”
So far this year, our health authority has seen 119 toxic drug fatalities – 32 of which were in northwest.
Northern Health has the highest unregulated drug death rate among all the health authorities at 58.2 per 100,000 people – with Vancouver Coastal the next closest at 55.9.
However, 57% of all toxic drug deaths have been in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions.
In terms of Health Service Delivery Area, the Northwest, has the fifth-highest drug toxicity death rate of 61.4– Vancouver (87.6) ranks in the top spot followed by the Northern Interior (71.6), Central Vancouver Island (70.5) and Thompson-Cariboo-Shuswap (61.9).
So far this year, 1,645 people have lost their lives due to the toxic drug supply – 70% of those deaths are between the ages of 30 and 59.
The 50-49 age grouping has the highest unregulated drug death rate in BC at 81.3 followed by those aged 40-59 (78.3).
Last year 2,383 residents passed away from illicit drug overdoses, making it the deadliest year on record.
“The relentlessness and scale of this public-health crisis requires a proportionate response,” Lapointe said. “The BC Coroners Service continues to recommend urgent, collaborative action on the part of ministries and health authorities to co-ordinate a provincewide continuum of care that saves lives. Improvements in the quality and reach of harm reduction and evidence-based treatment services are essential, as is the critical need to ensure that those at risk of dying can access safer, regulated drugs. If we cannot implement these changes, our loved ones will continue to die.”
Unregulated drug toxicity is now the leading cause of death in British Columbia for people aged 10 to 59, accounting for more deaths than homicides, suicides, accidents and natural disease combined.
12,929 British Columbians have died from unregulated drugs since the public health emergency was first declared in April 2016.
In addition, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jennifer Whiteside issued the following statement:
“Today’s BC Coroners Service report for August 2023 tells a story we have heard too often. We are not just talking about numbers, we are talking about people. We’ve lost 174 fathers, daughters, colleagues, neighbours, and friends.
“While the number of people who died last month is down slightly from the same month last year and the previous month, the impact on our families and communities remains overwhelming. We see first-hand the deep pain – physical, mental, and emotional – that lies behind addiction. Shame and stigma often stand in the way of people getting the help they require. We are actively working to remove these barriers and foster an environment where everyone feels included and supported.
“After hearing first-hand from municipal leaders at the recent Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention, it is clear that communities across B.C. are grappling with the devastating effects of the toxic-drug crisis. Mayors, councillors and local advocates shared stories that underscore the urgency and complexity of what we’re facing. This crisis knows no boundaries. It is a shared challenge that calls for a united approach from all levels of government. We are committed to continuing our work with local governments to address the challenges in their communities.
“Building on what we have learned, we are focusing on early intervention and expanding support services everywhere. Through Foundry, we are delivering specialized care for young people so that they have safe, judgment-free spaces when they need it most. We are also expanding local treatment options by adding new bed-based services, withdrawal management (detox), medication-assisted treatment and more, across the province, supporting more people to receive support without leaving their communities.
“For every life lost, the ripple effect is immense, touching families, communities and indeed all of us. These are not simply statistics, these are lives that remind us of the human cost of this ongoing crisis.
“As we face yet another month of irreplaceable lives lost, our focus sharpens on the actionable steps that must be taken to prevent further tragedies. We will continue to do everything we can to save lives and get people the help they need so that losses like those announced today become a memory, not a monthly recurrence.”