Despite fewer illicit drug toxicity deaths in the province in 2019, the BC Coroners Service continues to urge caution due to an unpredictable, toxic, illicit drug supply that is present in British Columbia.
The BC Coroners Service reports that there were 69 suspected drug toxicity deaths in October 2019, a 42% decrease over the number of deaths that occurred in October 2018 (118), and a 21% decrease over the number of deaths that occurred in September 2019 (57). The 57 suspected drug toxicity deaths in September 2019 represent a 58% decrease over the number of deaths that occurred in September 2018 (135) and a 31% decrease over the number of deaths that occurred in August 2019 (83).
“While Coroners Service data shows that the number of fatalities related to illicit drug toxicity has decreased this year, we know from our partners in health care that the number of non-fatal drug toxicity events remains high,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner. “The drug supply in our province is unpredictable and perilous, and the long-term impacts of drug toxicity can be severe.
“The decrease in the number of fatalities is a promising trend, but we need to continue to keep our focus on this crisis of unsafe supply and continue to explore meaningful measures to reduce the risks for all British Columbians.”
A range of first responders, dispatchers, other health-care providers and peer groups have saved the lives of those who have experienced an overdose. However, this crisis is far from over. From January to October 2019, BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) paramedics responded to more than 20,000 overdose calls around the province, an average of 64 potential overdose/poisoning calls per day in B.C. Based on data from BCEHS, when BCEHS paramedics respond to a potential overdose patient, the patient has a 99% chance of survival.
“This is why all partners in public health continue to stress the importance of not using alone and to call 911 if you see someone who may be experiencing adverse effects of a drug event,” Lapointe said. “We must continue to remain vigilant.”
These tips can help to prevent fatal overdoses:
- Always carry a naloxone kit with you even if you don’t use drugs, and call 911 if you see an overdose;
- If using drugs, have them checked if you can and never use alone. Use at a supervised consumption site or overdose prevention site, if possible; and
- If you think you might have a substance-use disorder, talk to your health provider about treatments that are available.
- The number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in October and September 2019 equates to about 2.1 deaths per day for the two months.
- In 2019, 71% of those dying were aged 30-59. Individuals aged 19-59 have accounted for 89% of illicit drug toxicity deaths.
- Males have accounted for about nine out of every 10 illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2019.
- Vancouver (210), Surrey (105), Victoria (48) and Abbotsford (39) are experiencing the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2019. The four communities account for almost half the illicit drug toxicity deaths in B.C. this year.
- Princeton, Grand Forks and Keremeos continue to report the highest rates of illicit drug toxicity deaths, with more than 50 deaths per 100,000 people in the 2017-19 period.
- Survival from an overdose event can still lead to long-term adverse health impacts as a result of brain injury due to a lack of oxygen.
Latest report on Illicit Drug Toxicity Deaths in B.C. (2009-19): https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/birth-adoption-death-marriage-and-divorce/deaths/coroners-service/statistical/illicit-drug.pdf
Latest report on Fentanyl-Detected Illicit Drug Toxicity Deaths (2012-2019): https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/birth-adoption-death-marriage-and-divorce/deaths/coroners-service/statistical/fentanyl-detected-overdose.pdf
Toward the Heart: www.towardtheheart.com
BC Centre for Disease Control Overdose Response Indicators: http://www.bccdc.ca/health-professionals/data-reports/overdose-response-indicators
Stop Overdose BC: https://www.stopoverdose.gov.bc.ca/