VICTORIA, B.C. – The BC Coroners Service has reported 160 illicit drug toxicity deaths for May, bringing the total number of deaths in the province to 851 for 2021.

The 851 lives lost between January and May are the most that have been reported in the first five months of a calendar year— by 21 per cent. Previously it was 704 between January and May 2017.

In Northern B.C., there were eight illicit drug toxicity deaths in May and 58 total deaths so far this year.

May is the 15th consecutive month where the illicit drug toxicity deaths were over 100.

“More than five years into this public health emergency, we continue to lose our loved ones, friends, and neighbours at an almost unimaginable rate,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, BC Coroners Service.

“There is no way to measure the catastrophic impact that the loss of these lives have had on every community in our province. Today, I grieve with all those who have lost someone close to them as a result of this crisis.”

In May, by Health Authority, the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths were in the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal Health Authorities, with 291 and 233 deaths, respectively.

The highest rates in 2021 were Northern Health, 48 deaths per 100,000 people, and Vancouver Coastal Health, 46 deaths per 100,000.

Toxicology results show a greater number of cases with extreme fentanyl concentrations. Carfentanil has also been detected in 75 deaths in 2021 compared to 65 in all of 2020.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to wind down, we must turn our attention to combating B.C.’s other public health emergency with the same sense of urgency,” said Lapointe.

“We need to ensure that safe alternatives to toxic illicit drugs are available throughout the province, and that we are taking meaningful steps to reduce stigma and offer substance users access to the supports they need and are seeking.”