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VICTORIA, B.C. – Northeast B.C. reported 11 illicit drug overdoses so far in 2022, according to a recent B.C. Coroners Service report.

There were three deaths reported in the region in April, up from one death in March.

In the last year, the month with the most drug toxicity deaths recorded in the region was January 2022, with five.

With 31 fatal overdoses, 2020 remains the year with the most deaths in the northeast since 2012.

Northern Health is currently looking for a location in Fort St. John for a proposed overdose prevention site.

“Coroners’ investigations continue to document the volatility and inconsistency of the illicit drug supply in our province,” said Lisa Lapointe, B.C.’s chief coroner.

“The reality is that every time someone uses drugs purchased from the unregulated market, their life is at risk. Until a safer, regulated supply is widely accessible, I encourage those using drugs to use only in the presence of someone who can provide help and call for medical assistance if that’s required.”

There have been 59 overdose deaths in the north in 2022. The Northern Health region reported 16 overdose deaths in April.

“Anyone using illicit substances, whether they are regular or occasional drug users and whether they know their dealer or not, is currently at risk from the unpredictable, unregulated supply.”

The highest fatal overdoses recorded in the north since 2012 were 147 deaths in 2021.

“One of the reasons that people continue to lose their lives is the stigma that surrounds addictions and substance use,” stated Sheila Malcolmson, the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.

“Shame and fear keep many people from accessing the care they need. The fear of being criminalized has led many people to hide addiction and use drugs alone – and using alone can mean dying alone.”

B.C. as a whole has had 722 overdose deaths so far in 2022.

December 2021 (220) was the only month in the past year that had more overdose deaths than January 2022.

By Health Authority, in 2022, the highest rates were in Northern Health (58 deaths per 100,000 people), followed by Vancouver Coastal Health (47 per 100,000).

The Fraser Health Authority has had the most overdose deaths so far in 2022, with 236.

In comparison to other causes of unnatural deaths, illicit drug overdoses continue to be 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.

Major Causes of Unnatural Deaths in BC (BC Coroners Service)

The number of overdoses from illicit drugs in February 2022 is equal to about 5.4 deaths per day.

Vancouver, Surrey, and Victoria have had the highest number of illicit drug overdoses by township in 2022, while the rate in B.C. is 41 deaths per 100,000.

“The drug toxicity death review panel report released earlier this year contains advice focused on urgent measures to reduce the numbers of those dying as a result of drug toxicity in B.C.,” Lapointe said.

“The panel highlighted access to a safer drug supply as the most critical life-saving need in this crisis, along with a coordinated, goal-driven provincial strategy and a comprehensive continuum of substance-use care.”

The majority of illicit drug overdoses occurred inside, most in private residences (57 per cent). The rest occurred outside, including vehicles, sidewalks, parks, and other venues.

At 25 per cent each, the age groups with the highest overdoses are 30 to 39 and 50 to59 in 2022.

Of the overdose deaths, 76 per cent of the deaths were male.

The coroner’s report says that male death rates have decreased this month, while female rates remain relatively high.

Illicit Drug Toxicity Death Rates by Sex and Month, 2020-2022 (BC Coroners Service)

Illicit fentanyl and analogues were the top drugs involved in overdoses from 2019 to 2021 at 85.5 per cent, up from 5 per cent in 2012.

“There is no magic bullet to end the drug poisoning crisis. But decriminalizing people who use drugs is essential to stemming the tide of the toxic drug crisis, and to reducing the stigma around drug use,” Malcolmson said.

“These actions are vital as we build a comprehensive system of mental health and addictions care that includes harm reduction and treatment and recovery for British Columbians.”

Earlier this month, the province moved to “decriminalize” small amounts of illicit substances.

The province announced that it had been granted a three-year exemption under the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) to remove criminal penalties for possession of 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA within the province. The exemption comes into effect as of January 31st next year.

CBC reported that, in an interview with The Current host Matt Galloway, Lapointe shared her skepticism about the government’s approach.

“It’s been described as decriminalization. I’m not sure that it is,” Lapointe told Galloway.

“Decriminalization, to my mind, would be if you have a substance for personal use, then it’s for personal use, and the police should not have a role to play in that. … What you decide to use for your personal needs is your choice,” Lapointe said.

In the same CBC interview, Lapointe said she doesn’t believe this change will make a significant difference in the short term.

The ongoing opioid crisis continues to spiral out of control after being declared a public health emergency in B.C. in 2016 

The full report can be reviewed below:

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Shailynn Foster

Shailynn Foster is a news reporter for Shailynn has been writing since she was 7 years old, but only recently started her journey as a journalist. Shailynn was born and raised in Fort St. John and she watches way too much YouTube, Netflix and Disney+ during the week while playing DND on the weekends.