The opioid overdose crisis continues in B.C., with 155 suspected overdose deaths recorded in February — the most ever registered in that month.
To date, there have been 329 such deaths. Through the same time period in 2020 (January and February), there had been 156 overdose deaths recorded. By the end of last year, B.C, had recorded the most overdose deaths ever — 1,724 — with the surge beginning in March, right as the pandemic arrived. Last year, January and February were the only months in which overdose deaths were under 100. Each of the 11 subsequent months included at least 100 deaths.
In Kamloops, there was one suspected overdose death last month, with five deaths in total through the first two months of this year. In 2002, Kamloops recorded 60 such deaths, the most ever in the city.
The average of 5.5 lives lost each day in the province makes February the second consecutive month in which the average number of daily deaths was above five The 1,724 deaths recorded in 2020 work out to an average of 4.7 deaths a day.
Also of note, the BC Coroners Service said 15 per cent of those who have died this year were people 60 years of age and older, while 40 per cent were over 50. The BC Coroners Service said the increasing numbers continue a trend that has been observed in older age cohorts over the last several years.
As has been the case for the past several years, fentanyl was detected in about 85 per cent of deaths. In 2020, fentanyl was involved in 86 per cent of overdose deaths. 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.
RELATED: Action needed now
In addition, testing has revealed the presence of more carfentanil, a more lethal analogue of fentanyl. It was detected in 18 (12 per cent) of the 155 deaths in February, an increase from the January total of 14, the largest monthly figure recorded since April 2019.
Post-mortem toxicology results also suggest there has been a greater number of cases with extreme fentanyl concentrations (more than 50 micrograms per litre) after April of last year compared with previous months.
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).
"The number of deaths due to toxic illicit drugs in February highlights the ongoing critical risk to public health and safety from the illicit drug market," said Lisa Lapointe, B.C.'s chief coroner. "I extend my sincere sympathy to everyone who has lost a beloved family member or friend to substance use. The continued tragic and unprecedented rate of death in B.C. highlights the urgent need for a multi-faceted, evidence-based and accessible system of care for those experiencing problematic substance use."
Increased variability and toxicity in the drug supply continues to significantly contribute to the overall number of suspected deaths.
"This data emphasizes the alarming increase in the toxicity of the illicit drug supply throughout B.C.," Lapointe said. "Across the province, the risk of serious harm or death is very real for anyone using a substance purchased from the illicit market. Decisive action is urgently needed to ensure an accessible, regulated safe supply and to provide people with the supervised consumption, treatment and recovery services they need."
From the February report:
• B.C.'s total overall death rate in 2021 is 38 deaths per 100,000 individuals.
• Of the overdose deaths this year, 81 per cent involved males.
* The communities experiencing the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2021 are Vancouver (75), Surrey (46) and Victoria (24). Kamloops has recorded five deaths.
• By health service delivery area in 2021, the highest death rates have been in Northeast, Vancouver, Northwest, Northern Interior and Thompson Cariboo.