Fatal overdoses at all time high in British Columbia

Jul 9, 2020

According to a new report released by the B.C. Coroners Service, May 2020 was the province’s deadliest month ever for illicit drug overdoses.

A total of 170 people died from overdoses in May, as the toxic supply of street drugs continues. B.C. has reported a total of 554 fatalities from illicit drug use in 2020 so far, with more than 100 deaths in each of the past three months.

“It is both sad and deeply frustrating to see the number of illicit drug deaths reach a new high in B.C. four years after the declaration of a public health emergency. Despite the many collective efforts directed at this crisis, the toxic drug supply continues to take the lives of our family members, friends and colleagues.”

Lisa Lapointe, B.C.’s Chief Coroner

In particular, Vancouver Island has undergone a significant increase in fatalities. Of the 38 deaths across the B.C. health authority, 21 of them occurred in Victoria alone, making a total of 98 deaths so far in 2020.

Out of these deaths, 54 occurred in the south Vancouver Island health service area, while 32 occurred in central Vancouver Island and 12 in the north region. These record numbers have surpassed the prior deadliest months recorded by 36%, ⁠with previously reported monthly highs of 28 deaths in January and March of 2018.

“It’s just completely heartbreaking and unacceptable,” Guy Felicella, peer clinical adviser with the B.C. Centre on Substance Use said in his interview with the National Observer. “This is the often forgotten public health emergency…The two public health emergencies aren’t addressed the same and, unfortunately, neither are people’s lives.”

The spike in overdoses is attributed to increasing contamination of street drugs, despite harm reduction strategies implemented by B.C. to improve access to safe, prescribed drugs.

“The missing component in all of this is establishing widespread safe supply programs throughout the province, especially in Victoria,” said Felicella.