VIDEO: Illicit drug overdoses killed 981 in B.C. in 2019, down 38%

Chief coroner says figures were down about a third in the province’s fourth year of the opioid crisis

Nearly 1,000 people died as a result of illicit drug overdoses in B.C. last year, the fourth since a provincial health emergency was declared in 2016.

The figures released by the BC Coroners Service Monday were down in 2019, at 981 deaths compared to 1,542 in 2018.

However, chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said the fatal overdose numbers in 2019 were similar in number to 2016, the year the crisis began. The crisis has killed more than 5,000 people since 2016, the majority of them men. In 2019, 747 men died compared to 234 women.

“One thing those people had in common was that they were people,” Lapointe said. “They were loved. They had hopes and dreams and challenges.”

A 42-year-old woman, with mental health issues, “was found deceased in the living room of her home by her child,” Lapointe said. Toxicology tests found fentanyl and amphetamine in her system.

A 35-year old man was found dead in his home by a family member when he didn’t show up for work on Monday. The man had a history of anxiety and substance use disorder.

“He is survived by one child and a large, loving family,” she said.

The majority of those who died were men between the ages of 30 and 50. Vancouver, Surrey, Victoria and Abbotsford had the highest rates of fatal drug overdoses in 2019. Those cities have topped the list since the public health emergency was declared in 2016.

The number of deaths involving fentanyl dropped slightly to 84 per cent, from 87 per cent in 2018.

First responders were called out to 24,000 overdose calls in 2019, Lance Stephenson, director of patient care delivery with BC Emergency Health Services, said Monday.

Dr. Perry Kendall, co-interim executive director at the BC Centre on Substance Use, said that number, compared to 981 deaths, did mean that measures like supervised consumption sites and increased Naloxone training were helping.

However, he said decriminalizing drugs should be the next step in curtailing the overdose crisis.

“We are still in the midst of a public health emergency… in no world is losing nearly 3 British Columbians every day an acceptable outcome,” he said. A “prescribed pharmaceuticals supply,” as seen in other European countries, could be a first step.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said conversations about decriminalizing drugs are continuing,

“We don’t abandon an idea because it’s not immediately accepted,” she said.

The key, she said, was to separate the shame from substance use and dependence.

“It’s that stigma and fear of being put into jail for that health issue,” Henry said.

READ MORE: ‘B.C. cannot wait for action’: Top doctor urges province to decriminalize illicit drugs

But even people who reach out for help hit pitfalls. Henry said the people who get through detox and then graduate to recovery are left in limbo, as waiting lists for facilities remain miles-long and evidence-based care remains scarce.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

opioid crisis

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Toquaht Nation on Vancouver Island gives $500 emergency benefit to all adult citizens

“One of the things the government wants to do is ensure the needs of the people are met.”

ICET emergency business relief coming for regional tourism businesses

Two programs will be offered for businesses starting in April

Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District adopts 2020 budget in closed-door meeting

The plan shows an overall tax increase of 6.64 percent, applied differently in each electoral area

Timeline pushed back for Tofino-Ucluelet highway construction project

Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel said the ministry’s announcement came as “no surprise.”

Nanaimo, Royal Jubilee to be Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 frontline hospitals

Other Island hospitals will be admitting COVID-19 patients and will be used in a support role

UPDATE: Canadians awake to extra COVID-19 emergency benefit money, feds clarify changes

The CRA and federal officials are working to clarify the confusion around payments

B.C. sorting medical equipment sales, donation offers for COVID-19

Supply hub has call out for masks, gowns, coronavirus swabs

B.C. records five more deaths due to COVID-19, 45 new cases

A total of 838 people have recovered from the virus

Major crimes investigating sudden death of North Okanagan child

The 8 year old was flown to Kelowna General Hospital and died hours later

Easter Bunny added to B.C.’s list of essential workers

Premier John Horgan authorizes bunny to spread “eggs-ellent cheer” throughout province

Travellers returning to B.C. must have self-isolation plan or face quarantine: Horgan

Premier John Horgan says forms must be filled out by travellers

More than 400 animals have been adopted amid pandemic: B.C. SPCA

People are taking this time of social distancing to find a loyal companion through the animal welfare group

VIDEO: More than 85 people displaced by Campbell River apartment fire

Traffic is being diverted around Dogwood Street and 9th Avenue

Thieves steal $5,000 worth of cigarettes and candy from semi trailer in Nanaimo

Culprits hit truckload in shipping company storage yard on Old Victoria Road on Monday

Most Read