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Sixty-two overdose deaths in northern B.C. to the end of July

For the third month in a row, more than 170 people in the province have died due to a drug overdose.

The BC Coroners Service reports 175 drug deaths in July, 177 in June, and 174 in May. There were been 62 drug overdose deaths in the Northern Health region to the end of July this year. Twenty-two of those have been in Prince George and 12 in Fort St. John.

“The number of people dying in B.C. due to an unsafe drug supply continues to surpass deaths due to homicides, motor vehicle incidents, suicides and COVID-19 combined,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner. “This health emergency continues to take a tragic toll on people from all walks of life and in all communities of the province. Access to key harm reduction services in the midst of a dual health emergency has been a challenge, and the extreme concentration of the illicit fentanyl being trafficked is resulting in deaths within moments of use.

“It is not uncommon for two or three people using together to die suddenly and with no opportunity to seek help. Given the high prevalence of fentanyl detected in all fatal overdoses, if you are using illicit substances – whether it be fentanyl, heroin, cocaine or methamphetamines – it is critical that you use only in the presence of someone willing and able to inject naloxone and call for emergency assistance.

“As the risks for those purchasing from the illicit market are extreme, we continue to encourage clinicians to support those at risk of overdose by prescribing safe supply. We also continue to advocate for an accessible, evidence-based and accountable treatment and recovery system for anyone experiencing problematic substance use who is seeking this medical assistance.”

The illicit drug toxicity death total for July 2020 (175) represents a 136 per cent increase over the number of deaths seen in July 2019 (74). The BC Coroners Service has detected a sustained increase of illicit drug toxicity deaths since March, and the province has now recorded five consecutive months with over 100 illicit drug toxicity deaths.

“What the latest numbers show us is that the overdose crisis has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic and the unprecedented tragedy of death and loss to families in our province continues,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer. “The toxicity of drug supply is extreme, and I implore anyone who may be using drugs to not do it alone. For friends and family members who are concerned about loved ones, reach out and connect with them and let them know they are not alone.”

Once again, post-mortem toxicology testing data published in this report suggest an increase in the number of cases with extreme fentanyl concentrations (exceeding 50 micrograms per litre) in April, May, June and July 2020 compared with previous months.

There have been 909 illicit drug deaths to date in 2020 in B.C., and the number of deaths in each health authority is at or near the highest monthly totals ever recorded. The number of non-fatal overdose incidents is also increasing, with a record high of more than 2,700 calls reported by BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) in July.

“Paramedics are responding to and reviving overdose patients about 80 times a day, every single day in B.C.,” said Jon Deakin, paramedic practice leader with BCEHS. “It’s a lot. It’s the highest number of daily overdoses BCEHS has ever seen.”

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