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

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

Vandekamp moving on from Cowichan Capitals

Head coach returns to AJHL’s Grande Prairie Storm

Not to become bored the game plan for COVID-19

Board game developed by Crofton family just the remedy for filling time at home

75-year-old woman rescued from Cowichan Lake

Victim taken to hospital, but expected to recover

Ongoing list of Ladysmith COVID-19 cancellations and closures

Everything in Ladysmith that has been impacted by COVID-19

Here’s how to talk to people who aren’t taking physical distancing seriously

Approach the conversation with empathy says conflict expert

B.C. clears more acute hospital beds as COVID-19 case growth slows

Province holding about 40% of beds empty for peak still to come

As 500K+ apply for emergency benefit, Trudeau says aid coming for Canadians left behind

Canada Emergency Response Benefit provides $2,000 per month

UPDATE: UK PM Boris Johnson moved to intensive care after COVID-19 symptoms worse

He has been quarantined in his Downing St. residence since being diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26

Travellers, travel agents ‘in agony’ over refund policies and customer service

Many Canadian carriers are offering customers flights rebookings or travel vouchers — but not refunds

Introverted and extroverted kids likely to react differently to COVID-19 restrictions

B.C. child psychologist says your parenting approach can’t be one-size fits all in social isolation

B.C. begins taking submissions for $2M COVID-19 research fund

Rural health, impact of shifting hospital resources among priorities

Most Read