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VICTORIA, B.C. — Two illicit drug overdose deaths were reported in Northeast B.C. in October.

The region reported 21 illicit drug overdoses so far in 2022, according to the most recent B.C. Coroners Service report.

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

With 32 fatal overdoses, 2020 remains the year with the most deaths in the northeast since 2012.

According to the corners service, no deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites. The report states that there is no indication that prescribed safe supply contributed to illicit drug deaths.

There were 143 illicit overdose deaths reported in the north in 2022. The Northern Health region reported 15 overdose deaths in October.

The highest number of fatal overdoses reported in the north since 2012 was 154 deaths in 2021.

The Select Standing Committee of Health with the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia released a report on the drug toxicity crisis earlier this month. The committee’s 75-page report contains 37 recommendations to end the public health emergency.

Peace River North MLA Dan Davies, a member of the committee, told Energeticcity that residents must address the stigma surrounding drug use and overdose to prevent toxic drug deaths.

B.C., as a whole, has had 1,827 overdose deaths so far in 2022.

In October 2022, the province reported 179 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths, a four per cent increase from the number of deaths in October 2021.

“Despite the efforts of many, this public-health emergency continues to devastate families throughout our province,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner.

“The increased toxicity and variability of the illicit drug supply has created an environment where everyone who uses substances is at risk. This vulnerability is even greater for individuals who live outside the urban centres where the limited number of safer supply programs are currently focused.”

December 2021 (223) was the only month in the past year with more overdose deaths than January 2022 (212) across the province.

By Health Authority, in 2022, the highest rates were in Northern Health (56 deaths per 100,000 people), followed by Vancouver Coastal Health (49 per 100,000).

The Fraser Health Authority has had the most overdose deaths so far in 2022, with 547.

Compared to other causes of unnatural deaths, illicit drug overdoses have continued to be the highest since about 2015, with suicide being the highest before that. The numbers had a slight dip in 2019 for illicit drug overdoses but went back on the rise in 2020-2021.

Major Causes of Unnatural Deaths in B.C. (B.C. Coroners Service)
Major Causes of Unnatural Deaths in B.C. (B.C. Coroners Service)

The number of overdoses from illicit drugs in October 2022 equals about 5.8 deaths per day.

Vancouver, Surrey, and Greater Victoria have had the highest number of illicit drug overdoses by township in 2022, while the rate in B.C. is 42 deaths per 100,000.

Most illicit drug overdoses occurred inside, most in private residences (83 per cent). The rest occurred outside, including vehicles, sidewalks, parks, and other venues.

At 24 per cent, the age group with the highest overdoses is 50 to 59.

Of the overdose deaths, 78 per cent of the deaths were male.

Illicit fentanyl was the top drug involved in overdoses from 2019 to 2022 at 85.8 per cent.

From July 2020 to August 2022, etizolam was found in 38 per cent of illicit drug toxicity deaths that underwent toxicological testing.

According to the BC Coroners Service, etizolam is a benzodiazepine analogue and a non-opiod sedative that does not respond to naloxone.

“Our government is expanding and evolving our response to this public-health emergency as we strive to stop the terrible loss of life to the poisoned drug supply,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.

“While we have been adding new treatment and recovery services, expanding overdose prevention and working to end the stigma about addiction, the increasing illicit drug toxicity has taken more lives.”

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

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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.