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B.C. reports more than 100 illicit drug deaths for second straight month

An anti-fentanyl advertisment is seen on a sidewalk in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April, 11, 2017. A tag hanging from a dead man's left toe says the cause of death was an overdose of fentanyl, "unknowingly taken with other drugs." The cadaver draped in a white sheet is displayed in transit ads funded by the Vancouver Police Foundation and represents 922 people who died in British Columbia from drug overdoses last year alone.
An anti-fentanyl advertisment is seen on a sidewalk in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April, 11, 2017. A tag hanging from a dead man's left toe says the cause of death was an overdose of fentanyl, "unknowingly taken with other drugs." The cadaver draped in a white sheet is displayed in transit ads funded by the Vancouver Police Foundation and represents 922 people who died in British Columbia from drug overdoses last year alone. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

There have been more than 100 illicit drug overdose deaths for the first time in back-to-back months since the end of 2018.

The BC Coroners Service has published updated reports on illicit drug toxicity deaths and fentanyl-detected drug deaths to the end of April 2020.

The report shows 117 people in British Columbia died of an illicit drug overdose last month. On average, there have been 3.2 overdose deaths a day over the first four months of the year.

READ MORE: March was B.C.’s deadliest month for overdoses in a year: B.C. Coroners Service

“We remain in a public health emergency, with more than three British Columbians dying each day from illicit drug toxicity deaths,” chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said.

“Illicit drug toxicity death rates in B.C. are still the highest for any jurisdiction in Canada. Every region in B.C. has been impacted.”

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According to the report, the drug overdose deaths for March and April 2020 were 112 and 117, respectively, marking the first time B.C. has recorded over 100 illicit drug toxicity deaths in back-to-back months since November and December 2018.

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The 117 deaths recorded last month are a 39 per cent increase over the 84 illicit drug overdose deaths a year ago in April 2019.

Health Matters: Nearly three people a day die from illicit drug overdoses in B.C.in 2019
Health Matters: Nearly three people a day die from illicit drug overdoses in B.C.in 2019

In total, there have been 382 illicit drug deaths to date in 2020 in B.C.

To deal with overwhelming toxic drug concerns, the province introduced new clinical guidance for the prescription of opioids that could make it easier for drug users to get access to safe drugs in an effort to reduce the risk of overdose and promote physical distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Recent efforts to improve access to safe supply in B.C. are encouraging, and the BC Coroners Service supports continued enhancement of this critical life-saving measure,” Lapointe said.

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“We continue to recommend a regulated, evidence-based, supportive treatment and recovery system as an important pillar in preventing future deaths.”

READ MORE: Physical distancing: B.C. drug users can now access medication more safely

So far this year, 71 per cent of those dying were aged 19 to 49, and males accounted for 79 per cent of deaths in this year to date, both increases from 2019.

No deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites. Although in April, Vancouver Coastal Health reported a significant drop-off in the number of people using supervised injection sites and overdose prevention sites.

There are normally 6,000 visits a week at overdose prevention sites. Since the pandemic, that number has dropped to 2,000 due to concerns over exposure from both operators and visitors.

— with files from Simon Little