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Illicit drug deaths: Latest stats show small B.C. communities also impacted by opioid crisis

Used needles on a street in Kelowna. Global News

Four small communities in B.C. are producing startling numbers when it comes to illicit drug deaths.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General released an updated information bulletin regarding illicit drug deaths from the BC Coroners Service.

For sheer volume, Vancouver had an eye-opening 952 reported deaths from 2017 to 2019. But when it comes to averages, the death rates for the tiny towns of Princeton and Grand Forks are astounding.

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According to the ministry, Princeton had 12 deaths between 2017 and 2019, but that translated into an illicit drug death rate of 83.3 per 100,000 people. For comparison, Vancouver’s drug death is 50.2 per 100,000. Grand Forks (14 deaths) has a drug death rate of 55.1 per 100,000.

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Hope (12 deaths) was third at 53.6, with Keremeos (7 deaths) fifth at 46.1.

While Princeton, Grand Forks, Hope and Keremeos have nowhere near 100,000 people combined, Wednesday’s news underlines the fact that illicit drug deaths aren’t just a big-city problem, and that small towns are hit just as hard.

In fact, of the top 15 communities listed in drug deaths per 100,000 people, six of the top seven were places with populations of less than 10,000 people.

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As a sidenote, those four communities had 45 deaths combined – or 4.7 per cent of Vancouver’s 952.

According to the ministry, there were 79 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths in August of 2019, a 37 per cent decrease from the 125 deaths in August of 2018, but a 13 per cent increase from the 70 deaths in July of 2019.

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The government added there were approximately 2.5 illicit drug deaths a day in August, and that for the first eight months of 2019, there were 690 deaths — a 33 per cent decrease from 1,037 deaths in the first eight months of 2018.

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Record drug overdose deaths in BC in 2017 – Feb 1, 2018

Other stats from the ministry:

  • In 2019, 71 per cent of those dying were aged 30 to 59 years.
  • Individuals aged 19 to 59 years accounted for 89 per cent of all illicit drug deaths in 2019.
  • Males accounted for 77 per cent of all suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2019.
  • Fentanyl was detected in more than 85 per cent of illicit drug deaths in 2018 and 2019.
  • No deaths have been reported at supervised consumption sites or drug overdose prevention sites.
  • The townships experiencing the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2019 are Vancouver, Surrey, Victoria and Abbotsford.

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