Four people in Cranbrook died due to fatal overdoses from a toxic drug supply in the first four months of the year, as the East Kootenay region reported a total of six deaths, according the the BC Coroners Service.
The granular data from January to April is part of the latest update from the Coroners Service, which reported 161 deaths due to illicit drug toxicity in April, a two per cent decrease from deaths reported in March.
The crisis shows no sign of abating, as the province is reporting 722 deaths in the first four months of the year, one more than the same time last year, which was the worst year on record.
Drug poisonings are now the leading cause of unnatural death in British Columbia, according to Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner.
“Coroners’ investigations continue to document the volatility and inconsistency of the illicit drug supply in our province,” said Lapointe, in a news release. “The reality is that every time someone uses drugs purchased from the unregulated market, their life is at risk. Until a safer, regulated supply is widely accessible, I encourage those using drugs to use only in the presence of someone who can provide help and call for medical assistance if that’s required.
“Anyone using illicit substances, whether they are regular or occasional drug users and whether they know their dealer or not, is currently at risk from the unpredictable, unregulated supply.”
In the first four months of the year, 73 per cent of those dying were aged 30 to 59, and 76 per cent were male.
No deaths were reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.
One troubling trend is the increased detection of benzodiazepines, which has increased from 15 per cent of samples in July 2020 to 45 per cent of samples in April 2022.
Additionally, in that same time period, etizolam was found in 40 per cent of illicit drug toxicity deaths. Etizolam is a benzodiazepine analogue and non-opioid sedative that does not respond to naloxone and creates life-saving challenges for emergency responders, according to the BC Coroners Service.
In a statement, Sheila Malcolmson, the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, touted recent federal approval for the decriminalization of personal possession of street drugs as a ‘critical step’ in the province’s response to the crisis.
“It will break down the barriers that prevent people from getting life-saving supports, while interrupting the cycle of drug criminalization and poverty. Because substance use is a public health matter – not a criminal justice one,” said Malcolmson.
Further to decriminalization, a death review panel recently analyzed thousands of toxic drug deaths over a four year stretch, recommending a safe supply, a coordinated and goal driven provincial strategy, and a comprehensive continuum of substance use care.
The province declared a public health emergency due to the toxic drug crisis in 2016.