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B.C. sees decrease in overdose deaths in March, but drug users face risks: coroner

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An all-party legislative committee has been formed to examine the ongoing illicit drug crisis in B.C. Global News Morning speaks with Dr. Nel Wieman of the First Nations Health Authority about the committee's goals and objectives. – May 3, 2022

British Columbia’s chief coroner says a recent dip in the number of overdose deaths is encouraging, but illicit toxic drugs still present enormous risks for substance users.

Lisa Lapointe says the latest overdose figures show 165 people died in March, down from 174 in February and 209 in January.

Still, figures from the coroners service show a total of 548 deaths in the first three months of the year, surpassing last year’s record, when 535 people died during that time.

Read more: B.C. scraps controversial plan to involuntarily treat youth after overdose

Lapointe says five people are dying every day and those who survive an overdose are often left with serious long-term health challenges so expanded access to a safer supply of alternative drugs would lessen those harms.

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She says 94 per cent of drug samples tested positive for fentanyl in March, while benzodiazepines, which don’t respond to the overdose-reversing medication naloxone, are increasingly being used in substances sold on the street.

British Columbia had a record number of overdose fatalities last year, when 2,236 people died.

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In a written statement, B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson thanked the peers and front-line workers who tried to save them.

“Every life lost is a tragedy. Our government remains committed to doing what it takes to turn the tide on this crisis,” she wrote. “Almost every week, new mental-health and substance-use supports are added to save lives, yet the terribly toxic street drug supply continues to take lives.

“We know there is more work to do, and we won’t stop until we turn this crisis around.”

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— With files from Global News’ Elizabeth McSheffrey

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