The BC Coroners Service says 2020 was the province’s worst year yet in terms of lives lost due to illicit drug overdoses.
There were 1,716 deaths due to illicit drugs in 2020 in B.C., a 74 per cent increase over the 984 deaths recorded in 2019.
On average, 4.7 people died per day in British Columbia last year due to an illicit drug overdose, compared to the 2.7 deaths per day recorded in 2019.
“The impacts of COVID-19 highlighted the immensely precarious situation of those experiencing problematic substance use in our province,” chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said.
“Decades of criminalization, an increasingly toxic illicit drug market and the lack of timely access to evidence-based treatment and recovery services have resulted in the loss of thousands of lives in B.C. It’s clear that urgent change is needed to prevent future deaths and the resulting grief and loss so many families and communities have experienced across our province.”
The province has asked the federal government for an exemption that would allow B.C. to make possession of small amounts of illicit drugs not a criminal offence.
If granted, British Columbia would be the first jurisdiction in the country with the exemption.
The request from Sheila Malcolmson, B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions follows calls from Premier John Horgan, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, Lapointe, and various police chief organizations to decriminalize the small possession of illicit drugs.
The toxic illicit drug supply in British Columbia has claimed more lives in 2020 than motor-vehicle crashes, homicides, suicides and prescription-drug related deaths combined.
There were 152 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths in December 2020, a 130 per cent increase over the number of deaths in December 2019.
In 2020, 69 per cent of those who died of an illicit drug overdose were between the ages of 30 to 59, and men accounted for 81 per cent of deaths.
Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria were the communities that experienced the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths.
“There is no other disorder or condition besides substance use disorder in which we force people to access the medicine they require on a street corner and manufactured by the minions of organized crime,” Leslie McBain, executive director and co-founder of the advocacy group Moms Stop the Harm, said.