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2022 saw Kamloops record most overdose deaths ever

Ninety people lost their lives to illicit drug toxicity last year; previous record for such deaths was 2021, with 77

Kamloops saw more people than ever die due to illicit drug toxicity in 2022, with 90 deaths recorded — 13 more than in 2021, which was the previous record year for such deaths.

The latest BC Coroners Service report indicates 2,272 deaths occurred across B.C. in the 2022 calendar year. That figure is second only to the 2,306 people who died in 2021 and is among the worst three years — all during the pandemic — for drug deaths in B.C.'s history.

Provincewide, illicit drugs claimed lives at a rate of 43 per 100,000 people. The hardest-hit health region, Northern Health, saw deaths at a rate of 60 per 100,000, while Kamloops' Interior Health region saw rates of 46 deaths per 100,000.

Ten more people died in Interior Health due to illicit drugs in 2022 compared to 2021, with 388 people lost. The most lives were lost in the Fraser Health region, where 680 deaths occurred, followed by 637 in Vancouver Coastal Health.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said in 2022, drug toxicity remained the leading cause of death in the province.

"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," Lapointe said.

The province declared a public health emergency over increasing drug deaths in April 2016 and, since then, the coroners' service has attributed 11,171 deaths to that cause.

In 2022, 70 per cent of those who died were between the ages of 30 and 59 and nearly 80 per cent were male. Vancouver (562), Surrey (232) and Victoria (157) were the municipalities where the most people died, followed by Kamloops, where 90 lives were lost in 2022.

Since 2012, there have been 408 illicit drug-related deaths in Kamloops.

Fentanyl (or its analogues) was detected in 82 per cent of all illicit drug related deaths in 2022, according to the report.

Lapointe called the province's illicit drug supply "highly unpredictable" and advocated for a safer drug supply in the province, among other reforms.

"Some [of those who died] had been experiencing problematic substance use for years, others used substances occasionally. Some sought opioids, others bought stimulants, unaware that what they had purchased on the illicit market contained fentanyl," she said.

Tuesday’s report was released one day after the province began its three-year experiment with decriminalization, wherein police will not arrest, charge or seize drugs from adults who possess 2.5 grams or less of certain illegal drugs for personal use.

Lapointe called that change a “key first step” in addressing the health emergency.

“I’m very proud of our province for this historic recommendation. I hope we can continue to be courageous and innovative to reduce harm and save lives,” she said.

Lapointe also said she will convene a third death review panel to tackle the issue of illicit drug deaths. The second panel made recommendations, including a call to introduce a safe drug supply, in March 2022.