As was anticipated, 2020 saw the most people ever die in B.C. due to overdose.
The BC Coroners Service said there were 1,716 deaths due to illicit drugs in 2020 in B.C., representing a 74 per cent increase over the number of such deaths recorded in 2019 (984). The number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2020 equates to about 4.7 deaths per day, which is two deaths per day higher than in 2019 (2.7 days per day).
The toxic illicit drug supply in British Columbia has claimed more lives than motor-vehicle crashes, homicides, suicides and prescription-drug related deaths combined.
Kamloops recorded 60 overdose deaths last year, the most ever in the city and the sixth-most of any community in B.C. The 60 deaths were 35 more than that recorded in 2019 (25 deaths) and 14 more than the previous year with the highest number of overdose deaths, 2018, which had 46 deaths.
"The impacts of COVID-19 highlighted the immensely precarious situation of those experiencing problematic substance use in our province" chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said. "Decades of criminalization, an increasingly toxic illicit drug market and the lack of timely access to evidence-based treatment and recovery services have resulted in the loss of thousands of lives in B.C. It's clear that urgent change is needed to prevent future deaths and the resulting grief and loss so many families and communities have experienced across our province."
Added Leslie McBain, executive director and co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm: "There is no other disorder or condition besides substance use disorder in which we force people to access the medicine they require on a street corner and manufactured by the minions of organized crime."
In April 2016, the provincial government declared a public health emergency due to the sudden spike in the number of overdose deaths, mainly due to the addition of the powerful drug fentanyl to supply of cocaine, heroin and other hard drugs. That public health emergency remains in effect today.
Other findings in the year-end report:
• In 2020, 69 per cent of those dying were ages 30 to 59 and males accounted for 81 per cent of deaths.
• The communities that experienced the highest number of overdose deaths in 2020 were Vancouver (408), Surrey 2014), Victoria (122), Abbotsford (65), Kelowna (61), Kamloops (60), Prince George (58), Burnaby (56), Nanaimo (39) and Langley (39).
• Fentanyl or its analogues continued to be detected in more than 80 per cent of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2020. Cocaine and methamphetamine were the next most commonly detected drugs.
* In 2020, 84 per cent of overdose deaths occurred inside (56 per cent in private residences and 28 per cent in other residences, including social and supportive housing, single-residence occupancies, shelters and hotels and other indoor locations), while 14 per cent occurred outside in vehicles, sidewalks, streets, parks, etc.
• Overdose death rates among those ages 19 to 59 has been trending downwards over several months, while rates among those ages 60 and older have been trending upwards. Rates among those 18 years of age and younger remain low.
• No deaths have been reported at supervised drug use or overdose prevention sites.