Okanagan surpasses grim milestone with record number of overdose deaths

Click to play video: 'Okanagan records deadliest year for overdose deaths'
Okanagan records deadliest year for overdose deaths
Okanagan records deadliest year for overdose deaths – Jan 31, 2023

B.C.’s toxic drug supply pushed the Okanagan to a grim new record.

Throughout 2022, there were 192 toxic drug deaths across the Okanagan, compared with 176 a year earlier. The year before that it was 149, and a decade ago, there were only 16 toxic drug deaths.

Of the Okanagan deaths, 2022 saw 87 people die in Kelowna compared with 76 a year earlier. Vernon saw 40 people die in 2022 from toxic drug deaths, which was a slight improvement from a year earlier when 42 people died. Penticton saw 27 illicit drug deaths.

At least 2,272 British Columbians lost their lives in 2022 to toxic drugs, which is the second-highest number of drug deaths in B.C. history.

“Our province continues to lose an average of six lives every day, and many more people experience serious health consequences as a result of the unpredictable, unregulated drug supply,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, in a press release.

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Drug toxicity remains the leading cause of unnatural death in British Columbia, and is second only to cancers in terms of years of life lost.

Click to play video: '‘I was so worried about how everyone would perceive my husband’s death’ '
‘I was so worried about how everyone would perceive my husband’s death’ 

By Local Health Area (LHA), in 2022, the highest rates were in Vancouver – Centre North, Terrace, Merritt, Hope, and Prince George.

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In 2022, 84 per cent of illicit drug toxicity deaths occurred inside, 55 per cent in private residences, and 29 per cent in other inside residences including social and supportive housing, SROs, shelters, and hotels and other indoor locations, and 15 per cent occurred outside in vehicles, sidewalks, streets, parks, etc.

Only one death occurred at an OD prevention site.

The number of deaths being investigated by the BC Coroners Service in 2022 is the second-largest total ever in a calendar year, and only 34 fewer than the 2,306 deaths reported to the agency in 2021. Toxic drugs were responsible for an average of 189 deaths per month in 2022, or 6.2 lost lives each and every day. The final number for 2022 will almost certainly increase as investigations are completed and final causes of death are established.

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Starting Tuesday, adults with up to two-and-a-half grams of drugs for personal use, including opioids, cocaine and MDMA, will not be arrested or charged.

The goal is to reduce the shame and stigma surrounding drug use, which the province says keeps people from accessing life-saving services.

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