British Columbia’s toxic drug crisis claimed 1,644 lives between January and September, putting the province on track to surpass 2,000 deaths for the second year running.
At least 171 people died in September alone, the BC Coroners Service revealed Monday.
The first nine months of 2022 have been the deadliest first nine months of a calendar year in B.C.’s history, as fentanyl continues to be prevalent in the illicit supply, it said.
“Both those who use drugs occasionally and those who are substance-dependent are at risk of sudden death from the unpredictable illicit market,” said the province’s chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, in a news release.
“It is of critical importance that a safer option be available to the tens of thousands of people in our province currently at risk of serious harm or death.”
More than 10,000 people have lost their lives to the toxic drug supply since B.C. declared a public health emergency over the crisis six years ago.
In the past two years, the province has averaged 184 deaths per month or just over six deaths daily, with the BC Coroners Service naming illicit drug toxicity as the leading cause of “unnatural death” in B.C.
They included a substantial increase in publicly-funded, evidence-based, and accredited treatment and recovery beds and outpatient services, along with standardized, provincewide harm reduction services.
The committee also advised the government to ensure easy access to take-home naloxone kits for all individuals, with a focus on distribution to high risk populations, particularly those working in the trades.
Lapointe said Monday she is encouraged by the committee’s recommendations, which she said emphasized “the need for a statutory framework that encompasses all treatment and recovery services in British Columbia.”
According to the BC Coroners Service’s preliminary findings, Vancouver, Surrey and Greater Victoria reported the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths. More than 70 per cent of those killed throughout the province since the start of the year were male, or between the ages of 30 and 59.
In a Monday news release, B.C.’s Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) decried the provincial and federal governments’ “lack of action to regulate the illicit drug market,” and blamed them for the lives lost to date.
It has recently distributed more than 10 grams of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine to the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, it added, to demonstrate “the life-saving potential of a community-led response” to the crisis.
In a statement, B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions said the province is “determined to end this tragic loss of life.” Sheila Malcolmson cited the government’s 2020 introduction and expansion of a prescribed safer supply — a program advocates have criticized as not being widely accessible to those who need it most.
“Although progress on building a system of care is being made, the illicit drug supply is more lethal than ever, and we know there is more to do,” said Malcolmson.
In the past two weeks, the minister said, the province has added 10 new mental health and addiction care beds in Cranbrook and a new mental health facility in Terrace.
– with files from Richard Zussman
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