The province marked a grim milestone in October, as the B.C. Coroners Service reports 201 deaths due to toxic drug poisonings, the worst monthly total ever recorded.
Additionally, October also saw the highest monthly number of illicit drug deaths within Interior Health this year at 43.
Provincially, it’s trending to be the worst year on record as the province is reporting 1,782 deaths in the first 10 months of 2021, eclipsing the sombre record from the entirety of last year at 1,765 deaths.
“This is a health crisis,” said Lisa Lapointe, B.C.’s chief coroner, in a news release. “I cannot stress enough how urgent this emergency has become. A comprehensive plan to ensure access to safe supply for the thousands of B.C. residents dependent on these substances is essential. Shifting from a punishment and stigmatizing regime to a decriminalized, health-focused model is also a critical step to reduce suffering and save lives.”
Up to October, Interior Health recorded 308 deaths, already the highest annual number dating back over a decade of health authority statistics tracking with two months yet to go. Within Interior Health, the Okanagan Health Service Delivery Area — a geographic boundary that includes Penticton, Kelowna, and Vernon — reported the highest number of deaths so far this year at 143.
Localized information for smaller municipalities is released quarterly, however, the BC Corners Service tracks larger urban centres monthly. Kelowna reported the highest number of drug poisonings in Interior Health so far this year with 60, while Vernon reported 33.
“It is heartbreaking that we continue to lose more lives to toxic drugs, and October was particularly tragic with over 200 deaths, the most ever recorded in a month,” said Sheila Malcolmson, the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, in a statement. “No words can replace a loved one lost. I feel British Columbia’s grief and frustration. Almost every person in the province knows someone whose life has been touched by the poisoned drug crisis. I am so sorry for each loss and send strength to everyone who is mourning someone they love.”
The provincial government declared a public health emergency five years ago in response to rising deaths due to toxic drugs. Since that declaration, the B.C. Coroners Service has reported over 8,000 deaths.
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