A fentanyl test strip is used at Vancouver Coastal Health in Vancouver, Tuesday, January, 21, 2020. The test strips will be made available to drug users to ensure that their drugs are safe and free of Fentanyl. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

A fentanyl test strip is used at Vancouver Coastal Health in Vancouver, Tuesday, January, 21, 2020. The test strips will be made available to drug users to ensure that their drugs are safe and free of Fentanyl. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Drug overdoses lead to 5 deaths each day in October; B.C. drug toxicity continues to increase

COVID-19 crisis continues to exacerbate the overdose crisis

The illicit drug crisis continued in B.C this October with five people dying every day and more deaths linked to “extreme concentrations” of the deadly drug fentanyl.

In data released Wednesday (Nov. 25), the BC Coroners Service said 162 people died in October, making it the fifth month where this year where overdose deaths topped 160. Deaths had decreased slightly in the two months prior, but rose again to make October the fourth most fatal month in 2020. So far this year, 1,386 people have died due to illicit drug overdoses in B.C.

The death toll last month is a 116 per cent increase over overdose deaths last October, and a 26 per cent increase over September deaths. Officials have said that the side affects of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as isolation and border restrictions, have led to a more toxic drug supply and more people using alone.

READ MORE: B.C. records 127 fatal overdoses in September, roughly 4 each day

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a devastating effect on the overdose crisis in B.C.,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. “Exacerbating this is the highly toxic drug supply that exists in our communities right now.

More than 80 per cent of deaths take place inside. No deaths thus far have occurred at supervised consumption or overdose prevention sites.

The coroners service noted that while toxicology reports continue to show that the proportion of illicit drug toxicity deaths for which illicit fentanyl was detected continue to be down slightly in 2020, with 83 per cent compared to 85 per cent in 2019, the concentration has increased.

“Post-mortem toxicology results suggest that there has been a greater number of cases with extreme fentanyl concentrations in April to October 2020 compared with previous months,” the report stated. Extreme concentrations are defined as greater than 50ug/L (micrograms/litre). From April to October, 14 per cent of fatal overdoses showed extreme fentanyl concentration, compared to eight per cent from January 2019 to March 2020.

Men continue to make up the vast majority of drug deaths, making up 80 per cent of fatalities this year so far. Seventy per cent of deaths were people between the ages of 30 and 59.

With the new data, the per-capita rate of illicit drug deaths has risen to a record 32.4 per 100,000. In the worst year prior, 2018, it was 31 per 100,000. The highest per-capita deaths were in Northern Health at 44 per 100,000 and in Vancouver Coastal at 38 per 100,000.

The highest number of overdose deaths this year took place in Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health at 447 and 379, respectively. The lowest rate was in Fraser Health, B.C.’s most populous health authority, at 28 per 100,000.


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katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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