BC’s overdose crisis: 192 people died in July

Nearly 200 people died from toxic substances in July, the province’s latest overdose data shows, marking a 31 per cent increase in deaths compared to the month before.

A report from the BC Coroners Service, released Thursday, revealed 192 people died of suspected overdoses in July. That averages about 6.2 deaths per day.

So far this year, nearly 1,300 deaths from toxic drugs have been reported to the provincial coroner, which is a record high for the first seven months of the year.

“As they have for the past seven years, these numbers reflect the ever-present threat that illicit drugs pose to substance users across BC,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, in a news release.

“The unregulated drug market continues to be volatile and toxic, and anyone using drugs purchased from illicit suppliers is at high risk for serious harm or death. We continue to urge those using illicit drugs to access drug-checking services, where available, or visit overdose prevention sites, where available.”

Lapointe reiterated illicit drug toxicity remains the leading cause of unnatural death in BC In terms of years of life lost, it’s second only to cancers.

“Families and communities across the province are continuing to suffer the sudden and tragic deaths of loved ones due to toxic drugs,” Lapointe said.

“Whether they are chronically substance-dependent or using only occasionally, all of those who access the illicit drug market are vulnerable to serious harms. The subject-matter experts on the recent death review panel urgently recommended significant expansion of safer supply in communities throughout the province in order to reduce the devastation caused by this public-health crisis.”

Commenting on the latest data, Minister of Mental Health and Addiction Sheila Malcolmson said she’s grateful for the work local governments are doing to end the toxic drug crisis.

But mayors and councilors gathered at the Union of BC Municipalities this week called on the province to “come to the table,” saying the drug crisis is something they can’t solve on their own.

Malcolmson said the province is “committed to expanding” government’s response to the crisis.

“The street drug supply continues to be terribly, increasingly toxic,” Malcolmson said in a statement.

“That is why we continue to expand much-needed harm-reduction services, particularly safe supply and inhalation overdose prevention sites, and we are leading the country on decriminalization of people who use drugs.”