Drug toxicity deaths in Northeast B.C. are now up to 23 after three people died in October, according to a recent BC Coroners Service report.

Northern Health reported 113 drug toxicity deaths so far in 2021, with 13 taking place in October.

Since January 2020, the health authority has recorded 245 drug toxicity deaths, around 11 deaths per month.

In the first 10 months of 2021, Northern Health has recorded the second-highest drug toxicity death total since 2011. The highest was last year, when 132 deaths were reported.

Provincially, 201 British Columbians passed away from a suspected illicit drug overdose in October. The latest data brings the total number of deaths for the first ten months of the year to 1,782— the highest number of drug toxicity deaths recorded in BC in a calendar year.

“Today is a heart-rending milestone for our province,” said Lisa Lapointe, B.C.’s chief coroner.

“The deaths of more than 200 of our community members in one month due to toxic drugs is a devastating loss. In the sixth year of this public health emergency, we are experiencing a record loss of life, and I know this news will resonate with tremendous sadness amongst the thousands of families who have lost a loved one to this crisis. My thoughts continue to be with every family and community that is grieving the loss of a loved one.”

The majority of deaths were among males at 79 per cent, and 71 per cent who died were between ages 30 to 59.

The median age of those who died due to illicit drug toxicity in 2020 was 43.

“This is a health crisis,” Lapointe said. “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.”

Illicit drug toxicity deaths in B.C. rank second only to cancer in terms of years of life lost, says the Coroners Service.

Analysis shows no indication that prescribed safe supply is contributing to illicit drug deaths.