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Toxic drug crisis claims over 200 British Columbians in January: BC Coroners Service

Nearly seven people per day on average lost their lives to a toxic drug overdose in B.C. during January. 

According to data released today (Tuesday) by the BC Coroners Service, 211 suspected illicit drug deaths were tallied province-wide. 

It is the eighth time the death total has surpassed 200 in the last 16 months, according to the province, and follows the second-deadliest year in B.C.’s history with 2,293 fatalities in 2022. 

According to a statement from the province, Island Health saw some of the highest death rates in January at 52 per 100,000 with 39 lost lives. 

B.C. as a whole saw a death rate of 47 per 100,000 at the start of the year. They say in 2016 when the public health emergency was declared, the death rate was 20.5 per 100,000 individuals. 

The province says the death rate means an average of 6.8 people died from toxic drugs per day in January. 

“Once again, our agency is reporting on preventable losses of life in heart-breaking numbers,” said chief coroner Lisa Lapointe. “We are nearing the seventh anniversary of the declaration of the public-health emergency into substance-related harms, and the drug-poisoning crisis continues to cost lives and communities at an unprecedented rate. 

“Toxic drugs pose a constant and ever-present danger to anyone who uses drugs. Anyone using any substance purchased on the unregulated illicit drug market is at risk of serious harm or death.” 

The province adds at least 11,195 individuals have died from illicit drug toxicity since 2016. 

Mental health and addictions minister Jennifer Whiteside says they mourn the deaths of the 211 individuals, adding the province is continuing to take steps forward. 

“While the province has been adding new treatment and recovery services, expanding overdose prevention, and working to end the stigma around addiction, illicit substances have become more toxic,” said Whiteside in a statement. “Budget 2023 invests more than $1 billion to accelerate our efforts to build an integrated system of care for mental health and addiction services in our province. 

“We are adding new treatment and recovery beds, creating new community recovery sites, and opening the first-of-its-kind seamless model of addiction care at St. Paul’s Hospital.” 

With files from Brendan Pawliw, MyPGNow

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