Failure to regulate toxic drugs kills another 211 people in BC in January

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      Unregulated toxic drugs killed 211 people in the province this January, according to the latest report from the BC Coroners Service—an average of 6.8 people per day.

      “Once again, our agency is reporting on preventable losses of life in heart-breaking numbers,” Lisa Lapointe, the province’s chief coroner, said in a statement. “We are nearing the seventh anniversary of the declaration of the public-health emergency into substance-related harms, and the drug-poisoning crisis continues to cost lives and communities at an unprecedented rate.”

      The province passed 2,500 days of the drug poisoning emergency on February 17, and will mark seven years on April 14. Since unregulated toxic drugs were declared an emergency in 2016, more than 11,000 people have died. 

      “Toxic drugs pose a constant and ever-present danger to anyone who uses drugs. Anyone using any substance purchased on the unregulated illicit drug market is at risk of serious harm or death,” LaPointe said. 

      The number of deaths is slightly higher than December (207) and slightly lower than January last year (216). Before July 2021, there had never been more than 200 deaths from unregulated poisoned drugs in a month; since then, 10 of the last 19 months have seen over 200 deaths. 

      The majority of deaths occurred in men between age 30 and 59, according to demographic data. Two children under 19 died from unregulated substances in January.

      Minister for Mental Health and Addictions Jennifer Whiteside said in a statement, “While the Province has been adding new treatment and recovery services, expanding overdose prevention and working to end the stigma around addiction, illicit substances have become more toxic.” 

      While she emphasized that the recent provincial budget is spending “more than $1 billion … to build an integrated system of care for mental-health and addiction services in our province,” only $184 million is being spent “to support our response to toxic drugs, including adding more options for safe prescription alternatives.”

      Sonia Furstenau, BC Green Party leader, said on Twitter that “these deaths are avoidable” and championed expanded safe supply.



      Drug users, community members, and advocates have been calling for expanded safe supply for many years. The concept is broad, and can refer to a number of different practical methods, but the core idea is providing regulated substances that remove the need to buy toxic, unknown substances from the illicit market. 

      Caitlin Shane, a drug policy lawyer at Pivot Legal Society, told the Straight last month that expanded, regulated safe supply would allow the government to make more decisions about how currently illicit substances are controlled.

      “Do we want them to be adults only before they get this substance? Do we want them to consume it on site? Like literally whatever you want, however you want to control it, you can,” Shane said. “We relinquish all of that control under prohibition, because we just say ‘No,’ knowing full well that people are just going to go to the illicit market and get a totally unregulated drug that may well kill them.”

      March 7 marks 2,518 days since the unregulated drug death emergency was announced.