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,” Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, said in a press release.
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.
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.
The Vancouver Centre-North Local Health Authority, which includes the city’s Downtown Eastside area, recorded 319 deaths in 2022, a new grim record. That total accounts for only 14 per cent of the number of lives lost.
The provincewide rate of death declined to 42.7 per 100,000 residents, but were higher in Northern Health, Interior Health and Island Health Vancouver, Greater Victoria, Kamloops, Kelowna, Prince George and Nanaimo which recorded more illicit drug-related deaths in 2022 than in any previous year.
By health service delivery area in 2022, the highest rates were in Vancouver, Northwest, Northern Interior, Thompson Cariboo and Fraser East. By local health area in 2022, the highest rates were in Vancouver – Centre North, Terrace, Merritt, Hope and Prince George.
At least 11,171 deaths have been attributed to illicit drug toxicity since the public health emergency was first declared in April 2016.
”The reality is that these deaths are preventable,” Lapointe said.
“Toxicology data confirms that the drug supply in British Columbia is increasingly volatile and life-threatening.”
LaPointe added that the Standing Committee on Health and two BC Coroners Service death review panels are in agreement that the province should rapidly increase access to a safer supply of substances, while at the same time building out a robust system of evidence-based care.
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.
The B.C. government said this does not mean drugs are legalized. Possession of illegal substances will remain illegal on K-to-12 school premises, at licensed child-care facilities, in certified airports, on Canadian Coast Guard vessels and helicopters, for Canadian Forces members subject to the Code of Service Discipline, in a motor vehicle or watercraft operated by a minor, when the illegal substances are readily accessible to the operator of a motor vehicle or watercraft and for anyone under the age of 18.