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Deaths among B.C.’s unhoused population jumped 75% between 2020 and 2021

Click to play video: 'No end in sight to B.C.’s drug overdose crisis'
No end in sight to B.C.’s drug overdose crisis
The toxic drug crisis in B.C. has claimed at least 1,095 lives so far this year. Global News Morning speaks with Guy Felicella of the BC Centre on Substance Use about the ongoing crisis. – Aug 17, 2022

The number of deaths among British Columbia’s unhoused population jumped 75 per cent between 2020 and 2021, according to the BC Coroners Service.

A preliminary report released Wednesday found 247 people experiencing homelessness died last year. Of those deaths deemed “accidental,” 93 per cent were caused by the illicit drug supply.

“We know that many are facing significant health concerns, including physical disabilities, mental health challenges and substance-use issues,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, in a Wednesday news release.

“Additionally, as is also evident in the province’s housed population, the report details the significant risks associated with toxic drugs for those who are unhoused.”

Read more: Island Health issues toxic drug warning for Greater Victoria, B.C.

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The report examined a 10-year period between 2012 and 2021.

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In that timeframe, the BC Coroners Service investigated about 120 deaths per year. The average between 2015 and 2020, however, was about 153 deaths people.

The B.C. government declared a public health emergency due to drug overdoses and deaths in 2016.

Click to play video: 'Most toxic drug deaths in British Columbia are now from smoked drugs: coroner’s service'
Most toxic drug deaths in British Columbia are now from smoked drugs: coroner’s service

According to the report, individuals between 30 and 59 years old accounted for 72 per cent of all the 2,117 reported deaths. Eighty-three per cent of those who died were male.

Over the 10-year period, 87 per cent of accidental deaths were caused by illicit drugs.

Sarah Blyth, executive director of Vancouver’s Overdose Prevention Society, said the numbers aren’t “shocking” to her as a resident and worker in the Downtown Eastside.

“It’s a really toxic time and it just makes me so sad because we’ve seen so many people lost. Even just to talk about this again and again and again — it’s terrible,” she told CKNW’s Jill Bennett Show.

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Read more: More doctors across Canada should prescribe safer drugs to reduce overdoses: minister

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Blyth said she would like to see more 24-hour overdose prevention sites in the province. The government also needs to “replace” the toxic drug supply and support drug users in transitioning to another substance that is known or prescribed, she added.

“It’s really the only way to get existing drug users that have no plans to stop right now into a situation where they’re not, by mistake, taking something that will kill them.”

In the news release, Lapointe called for the “urgent creation” of a provincewide framework for the distribution of a safe supply, the establishment of an evidence-based “continuum of care,” and clear targets — with timelines — for reducing illicit drug toxicity overdoses and deaths.

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Click to play video: 'Calls for mandatory overdose education in B.C. schools'
Calls for mandatory overdose education in B.C. schools

In a joint news release Wednesday, the ministers responsible for housing, and mental health and addictions in B.C. expressed “heartfelt condolences” to families grieving the loss of their loved ones who experienced homelessness.

“The data is a stark reminder of the devastating impacts of the toxic drug crisis on people in B.C., compounded by the daily risks and health challenges faced by people experiencing homelessness,” Murray Rankin and Sheila Malcolmson wrote.

“We are working on all fronts to turn the tide on this crisis, including expanding treatment services and harm reduction measures like drug checking and prescribed safer supply, including for people experiencing homelessness.”

Since 2017, they said more than 4,700 people who were either unhoused or at risk of homelessness have moved into new supportive housing. Another 2,300 homes with supports are in the works.

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