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Close to 200 people died from poisoned drugs in B.C. in May

Click to play video: 'Toxic illicit drugs continue to claim lives in B.C.' Toxic illicit drugs continue to claim lives in B.C.
Global BC Health Contributor Dr. Birinder Narang looks at the latest report from the BC Coroners Service on overdose deaths as well as an encouraging experimental cancer treatment – Jun 11, 2022

At least 195 British Columbians died from toxic illicit drugs in May, according to the BC Coroners Service.

The numbers released Thursday are a 22 per cent increase from the number of deaths reported in April 2021, and bring the total number of poisoned drug deaths in 2022 to at least 940.

It’s the highest number for the first five months of any calendar year in the province’s history.

“After a catastrophic 2021, I am saddened to report that we are, once again, on pace to lose a record number of our community members in 2022,” Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, said in a news release.

“The illicit drug supply in this province continues to be volatile and inconsistent, and presents a significant risk to anyone who uses drugs.”

Read more: Long waitlists for treatment forces families to go to extreme lengths during B.C’s toxic drug crisis

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More than 9,500 people have died of an overdose from poisoned drugs in B.C. since the province declared a public health emergency over six years ago. A record-breaking 2,232 people died in 2021 alone.

Lapointe urged drug users to take precautions to protect themselves, including using small doses and having someone available to administer naloxone if needed.

Since the province implemented its expedited toxicological testing regime in July 2020, the BC Coroners Service said about 91 per cent of submitted samples have detected fentanyl, 43 per cent have detected at least one benzodiazepine, and 19 per cent of detected another opioid.

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Decriminalization plan for B.C. drug users – Jun 1, 2022

Illicit drug toxicity remains the leading cause of unnatural death in the province, the service said in its release.

“Six people a day are dying due to the toxic drug crisis in this province and it’s nothing short of tragic,” B.C. Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson said in a Thursday statement.

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“We know there is much more to do, and we won’t stop working until we finally put an end to this terrible crisis.”

In May, B.C. became the first province to decriminalize small amounts of certain illicit substances for personal use, effective January 2023. It has also recently invested in a new sobering and assessment centre in Prince George and a rapid access to addiction care clinic in Abbotsford.

Advocates, however, criticize the lack of widespread access to a safe supply in B.C., long wait times to access mental health and treatment programs, and poor availability of affordable housing that would allow users to recover long-term.

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