There were 174 fatal drug overdoses in B.C. in February, including just one in the northeast.
There have been six deaths reported in the northeast so far this year, according to the latest data from the BC Coroners Service released Tuesday, including five in January. The lone death in February was down from three fatal overdoses reported in the same month last year.
"As we approach the sixth anniversary of the declaration of the public-health emergency into substance-related harms, we are continuing to lose members of our communities at an unprecedented and terrifying rate," Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said in a statement. "The deaths of another 174 B.C. residents, so many of them young and middle-aged men with years of life ahead of them, is yet another reminder that urgent action is needed on a provincewide scale.”
Across Northern B.C., there were 13 overdose deaths in February, including eight in the Northern Interior and four deaths in the Northwest.
Since November, 30% of fentanyl-detected illicit drug toxicity deaths in Northern Health had extreme fentanyl concentrations exceeding 50 micrograms per litre, according to the Coroners Service.
Fentanyl and its analogues have been found in 87% of the deaths in the region over the last 20 months; other stimulants, such as cocaine or meth, have been found in 74% of deaths, and benzodiazepines were found in 38% of deaths.
A provincial health committee has been struck and is being tasked with reviewing the overdose crisis. The committee, which includes North Peace MLA Dan Davies, will review patterns of use, the drug market, the role of organized crime, as well as the increase in toxicity coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With the province seeing nearly seven deaths a day due to overdose, and with northeastern B.C. seeing the highest per capita overdose deaths, we need to figure out the best path forward and reverse this disturbing trend,” says Davies.
There were 27 fatal drug overdoses in Northeast B.C. in 2021, the second-deadliest year on record for the region, behind a record 31 deaths reported in 2020. The northeast recorded just six fatal overdoses a decade ago in 2012.
An overwhelming number of people who are dying from heightened drug toxicity continue to be men (78%); and in Northern B.C., people are most often dying in private residences (61.8%), or other residences such as hotels, rooming houses, shelters, or other supportive housing (19.7%) according to the data.
In her statement, Lapointe reiterated a call for a regulated supply of drugs for the public.
"I recognize that the concept of safer supply is difficult for some to understand given the many decades of a punitive, enforcement-based approach to substance use," she said. "However, unless we act quickly to provide a safe, regulated source of the drugs people are using in every community across our province, people we love will continue to be vulnerable to the profit-driven, chaotic illicit drug market.
"Safer supply, along with decriminalizing possession of drugs for personal use, reducing stigma and building an evidence-based system of treatment and recovery are critical components for reducing the terrible harms and fatal consequences of the toxic illicit drug market," she said.
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