B.C. continues with record-high number of overdose deaths

The province recorded 158 such suspected deaths in March, with 498 deaths through the first quarter of the year. In Kamloops, 12 people have died of suspected overdoses through the first three months of 2021.

B.C. is again on pace for a grim record — the most overdose deaths ever recorded in one year.

The latest statistics form the BC Coroners Service show the province recorded 158 such suspected deaths in March, tied with 2018 for the largest number of overdose deaths tabulated in that month.

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March’s data followed the 155 suspected overdose deaths recorded in February — the most ever registered in that month.

Through the first quarter of 2021 (January, February and March), there have been 498 suspected overdose deaths in B.C. Last year after the first quarter, there had been 268 such deaths — and 2020 ended with the most overdose deaths ever in a calendar year, 1,723.

Since the pandemic began in March 2020, there has never been a month with fewer than 100 overdose deaths in B.C.

In Kamloops, there were seven suspected overdose deaths in March, bringing to 12 the number of such suspected deaths in the city this year. In 2020, Kamloops saw 60 overdose deaths, the most ever recorded in the community.

The average of 5.1 lives lost each day in the province makes March the third consecutive month in which the average number of daily deaths was above five.

The 1,724 deaths recorded in 2020 worked out to an average of 4.7 deaths a day.

of the 498 people to die of a suspected overdose this year, 69 per cent were between the ages of 30 and 59 and 80 per cent were males. Of the deaths, 56 per cent occurred inside private homes, 30 per cent occurred inside other residences (including social/supporting housing, shelters and hotels/motels) and 13 per cent occurred outside.

Fentanyl continues to be a factor in the continues spike in overdose deaths, with the powerful drug cited in 84 per cent of deaths this year. In 2020, fentanyl was involved in 86 per cent of deaths. The much more powerful drug carfentanil was cited in 48 of the 498 deaths this year.

The arrival of fentanyl as a common additive to hard drugs spurred the overdose crisis and spike in deaths. In 2012, the drug was connected to five per cent of overdose deaths in B.C. That percentage rose to 86 per cent in 2020.

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A review of completed cases from 2018 through 2020 indicates the top four detected drugs relevant to illicit drug toxicity deaths were fentanyl (87 per cent), cocaine (49 per cent), methamphetamine/amphetamine (38 per cent), and other opioids (32 per cent).

Sheila Malcolmson, B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions, released the following statement in reply to the March report on suspected overdose deaths:

“Stigma and criminalization are driving people to use alone, and the pandemic is pushing people further into isolation. The illicit drug supply has become dramatically more toxic and, tragically, more lethal. The effects of two public health emergencies have taken an immense toll. People and communities are hurting, and we will do more to stop this terrible surge of overdose deaths.

"After seeing deaths come down in 2019, we know what public health measures can work. We have continued to accelerate our overdose response over the past four years. In addition to expanding proven, life-saving measures such as overdose prevention services, outreach teams, nurses and making naloxone widely available, we are building up treatment and recovery services, adding new treatment beds around the province and trailblazing first-in-Canada solutions like prescribed safe supply and nurse prescribing.

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