VIDEO: Illicit drug overdoses killed 981 in B.C. in 2019, down 38%

VIDEO: Illicit drug overdoses killed 981 in B.C. in 2019, down 38%

Chief coroner says figures were down about a third in the province’s fourth year of the opioid crisis

Nearly 1,000 people died as a result of illicit drug overdoses in B.C. last year, the fourth since a provincial health emergency was declared in 2016.

The figures released by the BC Coroners Service Monday were down in 2019, at 981 deaths compared to 1,542 in 2018.

However, chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said the fatal overdose numbers in 2019 were similar in number to 2016, the year the crisis began. The crisis has killed more than 5,000 people since 2016, the majority of them men. In 2019, 747 men died compared to 234 women.

“One thing those people had in common was that they were people,” Lapointe said. “They were loved. They had hopes and dreams and challenges.”

A 42-year-old woman, with mental health issues, “was found deceased in the living room of her home by her child,” Lapointe said. Toxicology tests found fentanyl and amphetamine in her system.

A 35-year old man was found dead in his home by a family member when he didn’t show up for work on Monday. The man had a history of anxiety and substance use disorder.

“He is survived by one child and a large, loving family,” she said.

The majority of those who died were men between the ages of 30 and 50. Vancouver, Surrey, Victoria and Abbotsford had the highest rates of fatal drug overdoses in 2019. Those cities have topped the list since the public health emergency was declared in 2016.

The number of deaths involving fentanyl dropped slightly to 84 per cent, from 87 per cent in 2018.

First responders were called out to 24,000 overdose calls in 2019, Lance Stephenson, director of patient care delivery with BC Emergency Health Services, said Monday.

Dr. Perry Kendall, co-interim executive director at the BC Centre on Substance Use, said that number, compared to 981 deaths, did mean that measures like supervised consumption sites and increased Naloxone training were helping.

However, he said decriminalizing drugs should be the next step in curtailing the overdose crisis.

“We are still in the midst of a public health emergency… in no world is losing nearly 3 British Columbians every day an acceptable outcome,” he said. A “prescribed pharmaceuticals supply,” as seen in other European countries, could be a first step.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said conversations about decriminalizing drugs are continuing,

“We don’t abandon an idea because it’s not immediately accepted,” she said.

The key, she said, was to separate the shame from substance use and dependence.

“It’s that stigma and fear of being put into jail for that health issue,” Henry said.

READ MORE: ‘B.C. cannot wait for action’: Top doctor urges province to decriminalize illicit drugs

But even people who reach out for help hit pitfalls. Henry said the people who get through detox and then graduate to recovery are left in limbo, as waiting lists for facilities remain miles-long and evidence-based care remains scarce.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

opioid crisis

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A rendering of the proposed development at the intersection of Leon Avenue and Water Street. (Contributed)
Massive Leon Ave development coming back to Kelowna council

The towers would stand at 24, 28 and 42 storeys, the largest of which would be the tallest building in the city

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 65 new cases of COVID-19

Province-wide, there are 887 new cases of the virus

The Stuart Park ice rink in January 2020. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna’s Stuart Park outdoor ice rink opening delayed

Recent provincial health orders have again shifted the city’s strategy regarding the popular rink

The Rutland IGA is located in Willow Park Shopping Centre at 590 BC-33. (Michael Rodriguez - Kelowna Capital News)
Customer asked to mask up, throws hot coffee at Rutland IGA employee

The woman grabbed cat food on her way out when she refused to wear a mask

Police service dog Fitz helped track and rescue a lost hiker and his dog in Kelowna. (Kelowna RCMP)
Kelowna police dog Fitz dies of cancer

Fitz recently helped locate a lost hiker in the Central Okanagan

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 887 new cases

Another 13 deaths, ties the highest three days ago

Arthur Topham has been sentenced to one month of house arrest and three years of probation after breaching the terms of his probation. Topham was convicted of promoting hate against Jewish people in 2015. (Photo submitted)
Quesnel man convicted for anti-Semitic website sentenced to house arrest for probation breach

Arthur Topham was convicted of breaching probation following his 2017 sentence for promoting hatred

Langley School District's board office. (Langley Advance Times files)
‘Sick Out’ aims to pressure B.C. schools over masks, class sizes

Parents from Langley and Surrey are worried about COVID safety in classrooms

The baby boy born to Gillian and Dave McIntosh of Abbotsford was released from hospital on Wednesday (Nov. 25) while Gillian continues to fight for her life after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
B.C. mom with COVID-19 still fighting for life while newborn baby now at home

Son was delivered Nov. 10 while Gillian McIntosh was in an induced coma

City of Armstrong Public Works Yard. (Google Maps)
Armstrong city staffer threatened in snow removal complaint

Community services manager says ‘veiled threat’ is believed to have been flippant, but is being taken seriously

B.C. Premier John Horgan, a Star Trek fan, can’t resist a Vulcan salute as he takes the oath of office for a second term in Victoria, Nov. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
Horgan names 20-member cabinet with same pandemic team

New faces in education, finance, economic recovery

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The Okanagan Quality Life Society which usually gives tours of Okanagan Lake to seniors and shut-ins on its boat Heaven Can Wait has created a virtual tour video in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic which shut down the tours in 2020. (Morning Star - file photo)
Okanagan Lake virtual boat tours launched

Okanagan Quality Life Society normally gives tours on Okanagan Lake on its boat Heaven Can Wait

Most Read