Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, has released the following statement regarding the BC Coroners Service’s latest report on illicit drug toxicity deaths for 2020:
“In 2020, 1,716 people lost their lives to a toxic illicit drug supply in B.C. This overwhelming loss of life is felt deeply in every community, and we mourn with families, friends, co-workers and teammates who are grieving unbearably tragic loss. Front-line workers, families and peers responding to overdoses and caring for loved ones during the pandemic are heroes, and our province is grateful for their compassion under immense strain.
“One of the most insidious impacts of the pandemic has been increased toxicity due to disruption in the supply chain for illicit drugs across the country. We stepped up our response to this emergency in B.C., but the illicit drug supply is dramatically more toxic than a year ago – and tragically, more lethal. Combined with the stigma that drives people to use alone and a pandemic that isolates them even further, you have a recipe for a terrible surge in overdose deaths.
“Before the pandemic, we were making progress. In 2019, for the first time since 2012, we brought overdose deaths down. And according to the BC Centre for Disease Control, increases in naloxone distribution, added supervised consumption and more treatment options have averted more than 6,000 deaths. We are going to keep going and building the culturally safe, evidence-based system of mental health and addictions care that works and saves lives. At the same time, we know people are hurting now and there’s more to do.
“I am committed to continuing our unrelenting response to the overdose crisis. To finding even more ways to support and separate people from the poisoned drug supply, adding more treatment beds and recovery options, and working with the federal government to move forward on decriminalization in order to reduce stigma and save lives, as called for by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, public health and advocates.
“Together with our partners, we are clearing a pathway for people to access the health care they need and to be seen with dignity, compassion and respect.”
For a backgrounder on escalated overdose response actions, 2020-21, visit: https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/BG_Coroner_OD_10Feb21.pdf