According to a recent coroners service report, Northeast B.C. reported seven illicit drug overdoses so far in 2022.
There was one death in March, the same as in February but down from January when there were five deaths in the region.
“It is encouraging to see a decrease in the number of lives lost in February and March relative to previous months, but we know the illicit drug market continues to present enormous risks to our community members,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner.
With 31 fatal overdoses, 2020 remains the year with the most deaths in the northeast since 2012.
There have been 40 overdose deaths in the north in 2022. The northern health region had 19 overdose deaths in January, 13 in February and down to 8 in March.
The highest fatal overdoses recorded in the north since 2012 were 147 deaths in 2021.
B.C. as a whole has had 548 overdose deaths so far in 2022.
November 2021 and December 2021 were the only two months in the past year that had more overdose deaths than January 2022.
By Health Authority, in 2022, the highest rates were in Northern Health (52 deaths per 100,000 people), followed by Vancouver Coastal Health (50 per 100,000).
The Fraser Health Authority has had the most overdose deaths so far in 2022, with 182.
In comparison to other causes of unnatural deaths, illicit drug overdoses have been the highest since about 2015, with suicide being the highest before that. The numbers had a small dip in 2019 for illicit drug overdoses but went back on the rise in 2020-2021.
The number of overdoses from illicit drugs in February 2022 is equal to about 5.3 deaths per day.
Vancouver, Surrey, and Victoria had the highest number of illicit drug overdoses by township in 2022, while the rate in B.C. is 42 deaths per 100,000.
The majority of illicit drug overdoses occurred inside, most in private residences (57.3 per cent). The rest occurred outside, including vehicles, sidewalks, parks, and other venues.
The majority age group of overdoses is 30 to 39 at 26 per cent, and 77 per cent of the deaths were male in 2022.
The coroner’s report says that male death rates have decreased this month, while female rates remain relatively high.
Illicit fentanyl and analogues were the top drugs involved in overdoses from 2019 to 2021 at 85.1 per cent, up from 5 per cent in 2012.
“We encourage people using substances to exercise great care, use only a small amount first, and make sure someone is nearby to provide emergency aid if necessary. The volatile illicit market remains unreliable and unpredictable and continues to take the lives of loved ones across the province,” Lapointe said.
There is no indication that prescribed safe supply contributes to these numbers, and no deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.
“Along with the obvious tragedy of fatal outcomes, survivors of drug-toxicity emergency events often experience serious long-term health challenges. I am hopeful that implementation of the Death Review Panel’s recommendation to significantly and rapidly expand access to safer supply across the province will begin to diminish the terrible harms people in B.C. are currently experiencing,” Lapointe concludes.
The full report can be viewed below: