In a Wednesday March 24 press release, the BC Coroners Service said it was the 11th consecutive month that more than 100 people had died.
“The death toll from toxic illicit drugs in February highlights the continuing critical risk to public health and safety from the illicit drug market,” said Lisa Lapointe, Chief Coroner of British Columbia. “The tragic and unprecedented death rate in British Columbia underscores the urgent need for a multi-faceted, evidence-based and accessible system of care for those struggling with substance use.
It was the deadliest February on record since the overdose crisis began almost five years ago in British Columbia, with an increase of 107% from the same month last year.
In February, 5.5 people died per day, up from an average of 4.7 people per day in 2020, when 1,724 people died in total.
The increasingly toxic drug supply and isolation, both brought on by the pandemic, have been blamed for the rising number of deaths.
Data for the first two months of 2021 shows that 81% of those who died were men, with the highest number of deaths reported in Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria. While the highest number of overdose deaths was in Fraser Health with 116 and Vancouver Coastal Health with 90, the highest death rate was in Northern Health with 58 deaths per 100,000 people.
Overall, in British Columbia, the overdose death rate so far for 2021 is 38 per 100,000 people, higher than the 2020 record of 33.5 per 100,000.
Of the 329 deaths that year, 192 – or 58 percent – were in private residences, while 92 – or 28 percent – were in other residences. 36 others – 10.9 percent – were outside.
Although the BC Coroners Service pointed out that the data for 2021 is preliminary, so far about 85% of overdose deaths had fentanyl present this year, compared to 86% last year.
Overall, between 2018 and 2020, fentanyl and its analogues were involved in 87% of deaths, cocaine 48.7% and methamphetamine 38.4%.
Extreme fentanyl concentrations, defined as greater than 50 micrograms per liter, were detected in 13% of people who had a fatal overdose between April 2020 and January 2021, compared to 8% from January 2019 to March 2020.
Carfentanil, reputed to be 100 times stronger than fentanyl, was found in 31 deaths in the first two months of 2021, compared to 65 deaths in 2020 as a whole.
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Opioid overdose crisis in British Columbia