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195 deaths due to toxic drugs reported in May: Coroners Service

Fatal overdoses from a toxic illicit drug supply killed 195 people in May, according to the latest update from the BC Coroners Service.
Harm reduction supplies, like naloxone, are available at the outreach van. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Fatal overdoses from a toxic illicit drug supply killed 195 people in May, according to the latest update from the BC Coroners Service.

It is a 20 per cent increase over fatal overdoses reported in the previous month and equates to 6.3 deaths per day, according to the coroners report.

It is the 27th consecutive month with triple-digit deaths.

There were 940 toxic drug deaths in the first five months of 2022, which is a higher pace than the first five months of last year’s grim record-breaking total of 2,265 deaths.

“After a catastrophic 2021, I am saddened to report that we are, once again, on pace to lose a record number of our community members in 2022,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, BC Coroners Service, in a statement. “The illicit drug supply in this province continues to be volatile and inconsistent, and presents a significant risk to anyone who uses drugs. I strongly urge those purchasing illicit substances to take every available precaution to protect yourself.

“Please start with a small amount of the drug, and make sure someone is present who can provide naloxone and call for emergency assistance if you experience a negative effect. Your life is at risk.”

In May, no toxic drug deaths were reported in the East Kootenay area, however, the Coroners Service reports seven deaths over the first five months of 2022. Across Interior Health, 28 deaths were reported in May, for a total of 149 over the first five months of the year.

In larger communities in Interior Health, 39 deaths were reported in Kamloops, 31 in Kelowna and 19 in Vernon between January to May.

Deaths in smaller communities are only reported every four months. For example, four deaths were reported in Cranbrook from January to April.

Provincially, Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria remain the areas with the highest number of overdose fatalities.

Toxic drug poisonings are now the leading cause of unnatural death in the province, according to the coroners service.

Lapointe referenced the Coroners Service Death Review Panel that studied thousands of fatal overdoses, making a number of recommendations such as creating a framework for the distribution of a safer drug supply, developing a 30/60/90 day action plan with clear goals and targets, and a substance use system of care, among other policy initiatives.

“Responses to these recommendations have not yet been received,” said Lapointe.

In a statement, Sheila Malccolmson, the minister of mental health and addictions, acknowledged the ‘devastating’ toll and touted the provincial government’s work to build out a system of care.

“The early months of 2022 saw a decrease in toxic drug deaths, but despite unprecedented work to turn the tide on the crisis, this trend tragically did not continue in May,” said Malcolmson.

“Six people a day are dying due to the toxic drug crisis in this province and it’s nothing short of tragic. But it’s the reason we must persevere and continue the vital work of reducing the risk of toxic drug poisonings and saving lives.”

B.C. declared a public health emergency in response to the toxic drug crisis in 2016. Since then, thousands of people have died due to an increasingly toxic drug supply.

Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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