B.C. had 170 overdose deaths in May, the highest monthly total ever

Drug deaths highest in May

The BC Coroners Service is reporting B.C. had 170 overdose deaths last month — the highest monthly total to date. 

That number surpasses the previous high of 161, recorded in December 2016.

"It is both sad and deeply frustrating to see the number of illicit drug deaths reach a new high in B.C. four years after the declaration of a public health emergency," says chief coroner Lisa Lapointe in a news release. "Despite the many collective efforts directed at this crisis, the toxic drug supply continues to take the lives of our family members, friends and colleagues."

Four individuals died of an overdose in Kamloops last month, bringing the total number of overdoses in the city this year to 22. For comparision, the Tournament Capital recorded 27 overdose deaths in 2019. Kamloops is among the municipalities with the highest number of illicit drug deaths, behind Vancouver (128), Surrey (72) and Victoria (49).

Kelowna, meanwhile, has had 21 overdose deaths in 2020. The Okanagan city had 33 deaths last year.

Provincially, there have been 554 illicit drug deaths so far this year.

"These tragic deaths are a potent reminder that we must persevere with the many interventions in place and continue in our efforts to reduce harm and stigma, stop overdoses and care for people with addiction," says provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in the release.

"The overdose crisis is taking a toll on families and communities across this province, and we know the second public health emergency of COVID-19 is adding additional challenges. There is no simple solution, but we remain committed to doing all we can to support people who use drugs, as well as their families, friends and loved ones."

The BC Coroners Service says post-mortem toxicology testing data published in its latest report suggests an increase in the number of cases with extreme fentanyl concentrations in April and May 2020 compared with previous months.

In a statement, Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, says before COVID-19, the province was heading in the right direction.

"The overdose death rate was coming down in B.C., and the evidence told us that our collective efforts were making a difference. The rapid scale up and distribution of naloxone and increased access to overdose prevention services and treatment showed, through the BC Centre for Disease Control, that we had averted more than 6,000 deaths since the crisis began.

"Yet, with the immense pressure of two public health emergencies, so many unprecedented factors are bearing down swiftly on us all at once. Borders are closed and the usual illegal supply chains are disrupted, leading to drugs that are more toxic than ever. Unemployment, social isolation, declining mental health and increased alcohol and substance use are also the reality for so many right now," she says.

Darcy adds that province is launching a 24/7 helpline next week, to provide "live, in-the-moment support" to doctors, pharmacists and nurse practitioners while they are treating patients with opioid use disorder.

Click here to read the coroner's full report.

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