VIDEO: Illicit drug overdoses killed 981 in B.C. in 2019, down 38%

Chief coroner says figures were down about a third in the province’s fourth year of the opioid crisis

Nearly 1,000 people died as a result of illicit drug overdoses in B.C. last year, the fourth since a provincial health emergency was declared in 2016.

The figures released by the BC Coroners Service Monday were down in 2019, at 981 deaths compared to 1,542 in 2018.

However, chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said the fatal overdose numbers in 2019 were similar in number to 2016, the year the crisis began. The crisis has killed more than 5,000 people since 2016, the majority of them men. In 2019, 747 men died compared to 234 women.

“One thing those people had in common was that they were people,” Lapointe said. “They were loved. They had hopes and dreams and challenges.”

A 42-year-old woman, with mental health issues, “was found deceased in the living room of her home by her child,” Lapointe said. Toxicology tests found fentanyl and amphetamine in her system.

A 35-year old man was found dead in his home by a family member when he didn’t show up for work on Monday. The man had a history of anxiety and substance use disorder.

“He is survived by one child and a large, loving family,” she said.

The majority of those who died were men between the ages of 30 and 50. Vancouver, Surrey, Victoria and Abbotsford had the highest rates of fatal drug overdoses in 2019. Those cities have topped the list since the public health emergency was declared in 2016.

The number of deaths involving fentanyl dropped slightly to 84 per cent, from 87 per cent in 2018.

First responders were called out to 24,000 overdose calls in 2019, Lance Stephenson, director of patient care delivery with BC Emergency Health Services, said Monday.

Dr. Perry Kendall, co-interim executive director at the BC Centre on Substance Use, said that number, compared to 981 deaths, did mean that measures like supervised consumption sites and increased Naloxone training were helping.

However, he said decriminalizing drugs should be the next step in curtailing the overdose crisis.

“We are still in the midst of a public health emergency… in no world is losing nearly 3 British Columbians every day an acceptable outcome,” he said. A “prescribed pharmaceuticals supply,” as seen in other European countries, could be a first step.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said conversations about decriminalizing drugs are continuing,

“We don’t abandon an idea because it’s not immediately accepted,” she said.

The key, she said, was to separate the shame from substance use and dependence.

“It’s that stigma and fear of being put into jail for that health issue,” Henry said.

READ MORE: ‘B.C. cannot wait for action’: Top doctor urges province to decriminalize illicit drugs

But even people who reach out for help hit pitfalls. Henry said the people who get through detox and then graduate to recovery are left in limbo, as waiting lists for facilities remain miles-long and evidence-based care remains scarce.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

opioid crisis

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Sooke and T’Sou’ke Nation receive financial boost for projects

Provincial, federal governments invest millions towards Greater Victoria infrastructure

Rapid bus system could increase frequency, reliability in Greater Victoria

BC Transit studies methods for improving major routes in Capital Region

Victoria man collects 28 bags of trash along two-kilometre stretch of highway

20-year-old spent 12 hours collecting garbage near Thetis Lake

It’s showtime: Victoria theatre reopens with new COVID-19 protocols

Capitol 6 theatre and SilverCity Victoria have reopened with limited seating

13 new B.C. COVID-19 cases, Langley Lodge outbreak ends

Health care outbreaks down to four, 162 cases active

Two injured hikers airlifted from North Vancouver Island Park

Campbell River and Comox Search and Rescue hoist team rescued the injured from Cape Scott Provincial Park

Alberta health minister orders review into response after noose found in hospital in 2016

A piece of rope tied into a noose was found taped to the door of an operating room at the Grande Prairie Hospital in 2016

B.C.’s major rivers surge, sparking flood warnings

A persistent low pressure system over Alberta has led to several days of heavy rain

B.C.’s Indigenous rights law faces 2020 implementation deadline

Pipeline projects carry on as B.C. works on UN goals

‘Mind boggling’: B.C. man $1 million richer after winning Lotto 6/49 a second time

David O’Brien hopes to use his winnings to travel and of course keep playing the lottery

B.C. teacher loses licence after sexual relationships with two recently-graduated students

The teacher won’t be allowed to apply for a teaching certificate until 2035

Lower Mainland teacher facing child pornography charges

Elazar Reshef, 52, has worked in the Delta School District

Most Read