For the third consecutive month, over five British Columbians per day lost their lives to illicit drugs.

According to the BC Coroners Service, Northern Health recorded 12 overdose deaths in March with seven of those occurring in Prince George.

Province-wide, 158 people passed away from illicit substances last month – a 41% increase when compared to March of 2020.

“Once again, we are reminded of the incredible toll that the toxic drug emergency is having on communities throughout our province,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner.

͞The illicit drug supply in British Columbia is volatile and unpredictable, and anyone using a substance from this unregulated market is vulnerable to serious injury or death.”

Northern Health continues to have the highest death rate out of all the health authorities in BC at 56.7 per 100,000 residents – 12 points ahead of Vancouver Coastal at 44.7.

In terms of the Health Service Delivery Area, the Northern Interior, which encompasses PG-Quesnel-Burns Lake and the Robson Valley has the third-highest drug toxicity death rate at 54.2 trailing only the Northeast (66.9) and Vancouver (63.9).

Northern Health has recorded 41 deaths up to this point in 2021, with PG responsible for 16 of those.

Sixty-nine percent of those dying from overdoses in BC are in the 30-59 age group.

Men have accounted for 81% of all drug toxicity deaths this year.

The death toll currently stands at 498 after a record 1,723 fatalities were tallied in 2020.

The Coroners Service points out that no fatal incidents have occurred at a supervised or drug overdose prevention site.

Between 2018-2020, fentanyl was detected in 87% of all drug toxicity deaths followed by cocaine (49%), methamphetamine (39%), and other opioids (31%).

In addition, the detection rate of benzodiazepines has increased from 15% of samples in July of 2020 to 51% as of February of this year.

“͞There are no simple solutions to the toxic drug crisis this province is experiencing,” Lapointe said.

“Problematic substance use is widespread throughout our province, and evidence-based strategies, such as supervised consumption and drug-checking services, prescription
alternatives and accessible and meaningful treatment and recovery options, are essential to reduce the death and suffering.”

Earlier this month, BC requested a federal exemption from Health Canada to decriminalize personal possession of drugs in the province.

The Province is also boosting funds to secure recently expanded prevention services for people at high risk of overdose.

A $45-million investment over the next three years will extend and enhance the funding announced in August 2020.

Since a public health emergency was declared over five years ago, 7,230 people have lost their lives to illicit drugs.