Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said the COVID-19 pandemic is preventing people from accessing harm reduction services while making the supply of street drugs more toxic than ever with “extreme concentration[s] illicit fentanyl. ”
Data from post-mortem toxicology testing suggests that the number of cases with extreme levels of fentanyl has increased since April 2020.
“The current supply of highly toxic drugs in our communities is making this situation worse,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer.
“Now more than ever, we need to break down the stigma of drug use and remove the shame people feel that prevents them from seeking help or telling their friends and family about it.”
The effects of fentanyl are evident in data going back almost a decade.
In 2012, fentanyl and analogues like carfentanil were seen in 5% of illicit drug overdoses. By 2019, that number had risen to 88%.
The presence of methamphetamine in deaths also increased from 14% to 39% over the same period. Cocaine steadily declined as a factor between 2012 and 2019, but it remains involved in 49% of deaths in 2019.
Lapointe urges clinicians to support those at risk of overdose by prescribing safe pharmaceutical alternatives to toxic street drugs as part of a provincial program that was expanded earlier this year.
British Columbia declared a public health emergency in April 2016 due to a growing number of overdose deaths.