British Columbians "continuing to suffer" as 2022 has the deadliest year to date for illicit drug deaths
In September, 171 people died of poisoned drugs in B.C., according to a coroner’s report released on Monday.
The monthly BC Coroners Service report estimates that 5.7 people died from toxic drugs every day in September. It also noted the proportion of deaths for people aged 19-39 and those over 60 were both increasing.
“Not all public health emergencies are treated the same,” harm reduction advocate Guy Felicella said in a tweet. “It’s just heartbreaking again and again.”
So far this year, 401 people have died from poisoned drugs in Vancouver, including 50 fatalities in September. Illicit drug death rates in the city are 73.2 people per 100,000, far higher than the provincial average of 41.6.
The number of deaths was roughly equal to August 2022 (169), though eight per cent higher than September 2021. Sustained death levels in this time period are unusual: between 2019 and 2021, September deaths were on average 18.8 per cent lower than August’s deaths.
There have been 1,644 fatalities reported through to the end of September 2022, the most ever recorded in the first nine months of a calendar year. It is the 24th consecutive month of over 150 lives lost to unregulated toxic supply.
Last year, 2,267 people died from poisoned drugs.
“British Columbians are continuing to suffer the tragic effects of a toxic and volatile drug supply,” chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said in a statement.
“Both those who use drugs occasionally and those who are substance-dependent are at risk of sudden death from the unpredictable illicit market.”
Illicit fentanyl remains the largest single contributor to fatalities. It was found in around 81 per cent of drug toxicity deaths in 2022, down slightly from 86 per cent in 2021. However, there has also been a slight uptick in extreme fentanyl concentrations, from 13 per cent in much of 2020 and 2021 to 16 per cent of cases since November 2021.
Benzodiazepines, which were present in 52 per cent of drag samples in January 2022, have now fallen to 22 per cent as of August. The report also noted 38 per cent of toxicology reports between July 2020 and August 2022 found etizolam present. Etizolam is a benzo that doesn’t respond to naloxone, which can be deadly in combination with opioids.
Last week, the provincial legislature’s Select Standing Committee on Health released its first report on the drug toxicity crisis. While it made a variety of recommendations, the lack of explicit timelines and systemic change concerned advocates.
An open letter published in The Mainlander saw dozens of signatories condemning the report as “another disappointment” that “obscures the issue of a poisonous drug supply, and recommends nothing outside of the status quo.”
It has been 2,398 days since former provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall announced a public health crisis on Apr. 14, 2016. That year, 994 died from suspected drug toxicity.
More than 10,505 people have died from poisoned drugs since the public health emergency was announced.