Latest data from the BC Coroners Service shows at least 160 people died from suspected drug overdoses in May — the second-highest monthly tally of such deaths ever recorded. Only May of 2020 registered more monthly deaths, at 177.
Through the first five months of this year, there have been 851 overdose deaths in B.C., which puts the province on pace to exceed the record 1,728 deaths recorded in 2020.
Those 1,728 deaths last year equalled an average of 144 deaths per month. Through May this year, there have been an average of 170 overdose deaths per month.
In Kamloops, there were seven overdose deaths recorded in May, bringing the total number of such deaths to 26. Last year, there were 60 overdose deaths recorded in the city.
Kamloops has the sixth-most recorded overdose deaths this year among communities in B.C. Vancouver (199), Surrey (108), Victoria (65), Abbotsford (34) and Burnaby (31) have recorded the most deaths.
Of the 851 people who have died this year, 70 per cent were between the ages of 30 and 59 and 80 per cent were male.
"More than five years into this public health emergency, we continue to lose our loved ones, friends and neighbours at an almost unimaginable rate," said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner of the BC Coroners Service. "There is no way to measure the catastrophic impact that the loss of these lives have had on every community in our province. Today, I grieve with all those who have lost someone close to them as a result of this crisis."
The overall rate of deaths due to toxic illicit drugs in British Columbia now stands at 39.3 per 100,000 residents. Every health authority in the province has recorded a death rate greater than 33.6 per 100,000 residents, the previous provincial high established in 2020.
Expedited toxicological results indicate the variability of the drug supply continues to pose a threat to substance users, as 27 per cent of the samples tested in April and 25 per cent of samples tested in May contained extreme concentrations (more than 50 micrograms per litre) of fentanyl, the highest rates reported since at least the beginning of 2019. Carfentanil, a more potent analogue of fentanyl, has now been detected in 75 deaths in 2021 after being identified in 65 investigations in all of 2020. Additionally, 60 per cent of returned tests in May were positive for benzodiazepines, which create significant life-saving challenges for first responders when used in combination with opioids.
"As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to wind down, we must turn our attention to combating B.C.'s other public health emergency with the same sense of urgency," Lapointe said. "We need to ensure that safe alternatives to toxic illicit drugs are available throughout the province and that we are taking meaningful steps to reduce stigma and offer substance users access to the supports they need and are seeking."