One hundred and eighty-four British Columbians were killed last month after they used drugs from the illicit market. That’s about six deaths  per day.

On Wednesday the BC Coroners Service  said expedited drug testing found that fentanyl and/or fentanyl  analogues were involved in 90 per cent of the fatalities. Three-quarters  of the tests found the additional presence of a stimulant. 

“Illicit fentanyl continues to drive the  crisis, which is causing death in large and small municipalities, towns  and cities across the province,” said chief coroner Lisa Lapointe at  Wednesday’s update. “This health emergency is not confined to one  neighbourhood or one demographic. Anyone accessing an illicit substance  is at risk of serious harm or death.”

So far this year 1,200 people in the  province have lost their lives to toxic drugs, according to the BC  Coroners Service. More than 80 per cent of those deaths happened  indoors, with half of those deaths happening in a private residence. 

The BC Coroners Service  said the highest death rates were in the local health area  Vancouver-Centre North, which includes the Downtown Eastside, northeast  False Creek and Grandview-Woodland; and the respective municipalities of  Terrace, Greater Campbell River, Princeton and Greater Nanaimo.

Around 70 per cent of overdose deaths in 2023 happened after someone smoked a substance.

So far this year the toxic drug crisis has  disproportionately impacted middle-aged men. Seventy per cent of the  people who have died were ages 30 to 59 and 77 per cent were male.

Unregulated drug toxicity is now the  leading cause of death in B.C. for people aged 10 to 59, with more  people dying from drug poisoning than from homicide, suicide, accidents  and natural disease combined. 

Since  a public health emergency was declared by the B.C. government in April  2016, 12,509 British Columbians have died because of unregulated drugs. 

By comparison, last month the BC Centre for Disease Control posted its latest update  on COVID-19 deaths. From April 2020 to June 2023, 4,167 people died  from COVID-19, with an additional 1,458 people dying last year within 30  days of testing positive for the virus, but not because of the virus. 

That’s around 1,042 people dying every year since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a public health emergency. 

Comparing those deaths to ones from toxic  drugs, around 1,831 people have died every year since the toxic drugs  supply was declared a public health emergency. 

Another way to conceptualize those numbers is to compare them to the population of a town. 

More people died this year than live in the town of Ashcroft (population 1,182 according to the 2021 census). The 1,200 fatalities are also comparable to the entire population of Mayne Island (1,304 in 2021) or Galiano Island (1,396 in 2021). 

In 2022 2,383 British Columbians died from toxic drug overdose, which is more people than live in Port McNeill (2,234 in 2021), Chase (2,377 in 2021) or Blind Bay (2,369 in 2021).

The total death count since April 2016 is 12,509, which is more than the population of Quesnel (12,110 in 2021) and slightly less than Powell River (13,116 in 2021). 

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. It can be  used safely in low and controlled doses and can be prescribed by doctors  to help patients manage pain. 

But when fentanyl is added to  illicit drugs the potency of the drug can be extremely hard to determine  without specialized drug testing.

If someone nearby is experiencing an  overdose, call 911. Naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan, can  reverse an opioid overdose if you or someone nearby is able to  administer it before paramedics arrive.

The B.C. government is distributing  naloxone kits for free through most pharmacies, which also offer  training on how to reverse an overdose. A map of participating  pharmacies can be found on Toward the Heart’s website.

By Michelle Gamage, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 21, 2023 at 09:49

This item reprinted with permission from   The Tyee   Vancouver, British Columbia
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