PRINCE GEORGE - The BC Coroner Service says more people died of illicit drug overdoses last year, despite significant efforts to combat the crisis. The provincial coroner said Thursday that illicit overdose deaths increased to 1,489, just over the 2017 death total.
Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe says the illicit drug supply is unpredictable and the opioid fentanyl is implicated in 86 per cent of the overdose deaths.
"As this emergency continues, we need options to provide people at risk of overdose with low-barrier access to a regulated supply of opioids, and we need to connect people who use drugs with the supports they need rather than sending them to the criminal justice system," said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer. "If we're going to turn the corner on this complex crisis, we need to find the ways to provide safer alternatives to the unregulated and highly-toxic drug supply and to end the stigma associated with criminalization of people who use drugs."
Dr. Evan Wood, executive director with the BC Centre on Substance Use, says that the crisis isn't slowing down and there's an urgent need to end the harms caused by prohibition.
In the north, Northern Health has seen the number of opioid deaths increase. On a per capita basis, Northern Health has had the second highest number of opioid deaths in BC behind the Lower Mainland. Rates of illicit drug overdose deaths are highest in Vancouver, Northern Interior, Thompson Cariboo, Okanagan, and Fraser South Health Services Delivery Areas. Northern Health recently dubbed the situation a "crisis" as did the City's top cop in a presentation to city council recently. Prince George saw 24 overdose deaths in 2017 and 46 in 2018.
Men accounted for 80 per cent of all suspected illicit drug overdose deaths in 2018. During that time, 71 per cent of those dying were in the 30 to 59 age range. Those in the 19 to 59 age range accounted for 91 per cent of illicit drug overdose deaths.
Last year, 86 per cent of fatal illicit drug overdoses occurred inside including homes, supportive housing and shelters. Twelve per cent happened outside in places such as vehicles and parks.
"Thousands upon thousands of family members are grieving today because of the preventable deaths of their children," said Leslie McBain, co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm. "We have made some progress by implementing harm reduction measures. Many more people would be dead if not for supervised consumption sites and naloxone. But it is time to step up and stop the deaths by implementing the evidence-based solutions. This requires the political will, funding and a courageous change in direction. We already have the knowledge to end the biggest health crisis this country has ever seen."
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