According to recent data released by the B.C. Coroners Service, there were 1,018 overdose-related deaths in the province in the first five months of 2023. These figures correspond to a 2.9% increase in the number of deaths reported to the service compared to the same time frame in 2022.
Furthermore, illicit drug toxicity has now become the leading cause of death in B.C. for individuals aged 10 to 59 years, surpassing homicides, suicides, accidents, and natural diseases combined. The B.C. Coroners Service has also reported that over 70% of the deaths took place within private residences.
In a released statement, B.C. chief coroner Dr. Lisa Lapointe said that testing results demonstrated that fentanyl was present in almost nine of 10 deaths, which is double the rate of methamphetamine and cocaine. Moreover, data released by Health Canada shows that fentanyl was involved in 76% of all overdose deaths, though an increasing number of overdose deaths involve more than one substance.
“As long as people are reliant on the profit-driven unregulated market to access the substances they need, their lives are at risk,” said Dr. Lapointe in a released statement, advocating safe supply to reduce the incidence of overdose-related deaths. “In responding to this health crisis, it is critically important that we heed the recommendations of experts and ensure a robust system of care that includes increased access to timely, evidence-based treatment and recovery services, and to a safer substance supply as an alternative to the toxic black market. A public-health crisis of this magnitude demands a comprehensive response that meets people where they are and provides the services they need to survive.”
In April 2016, the B.C. government declared a public health emergency due to the rising numbers of overdose-related deaths, and since then, B.C. Coroners Service has reported 12,264 more overdoses in the province. In addition, data released by Health Canada shows that since 2016, over 32,000 people have died due to opioid-related overdoses in Canada, with illicit drug toxicity accounting for more deaths than all other, major accidental death causes combined.