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Nearly 600 B.C. residents lost their lives to toxic drugs in first three months of 2023

The BC Coroners Service said the province’s toxic drug supply is continuing to take a toll, as 596 British Columbians lost their lives to toxic drugs in the first three months of 2023.

Coroners Service officials said at least 374 died from an overdose in February and March, working out to an average of  6.4 lives lost per day.

“On April 14, we once again observed the anniversary of the longest public-health emergency in our province’s history,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner. “Since the emergency was first declared, more than 11,000 people have lost their lives due to the unregulated drug supply. This is a crisis of incomprehensible scale, and I extend my deepest condolences to everyone who has experienced the loss of someone they loved.”

Locally, four people died from toxic drugs from January to February in the East Kootenay and nine lost their lives in the Kootenay Boundary area.

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According to the Coroners Service, the first three months of this year have seen the second highest death toll from toxic drugs, after the same time frame in 2022 had 599 deaths across the province.

“The total number of deaths equates to a provincewide death rate of 44.1 deaths per 100,000 population,” said the Coroners Service.

“The reporting also reflects that the total number of deaths due to toxic drugs in 2022 has been increased to 2,314, making that year the deadliest year on record. Unregulated drug toxicity continues to be the leading cause of unnatural death in British Columbia, accounting for more deaths than homicides, suicides, motor vehicle incidents, drownings and fire-related deaths combined.”

The B.C. government said at least 11,807 residents lost their lives to drug poisonings since the public-health emergency was first declared in April 2016.

“It is clear that an urgent response to this crisis is required and overdue,” Lapointe said. “Recommendations made by multidisciplinary experts on two Coroners Service Death Review Panels and the Province’s Select Standing Committee on Health into the crisis support the urgent implementation of a safe, regulated supply of substances for those at risk of serious harm or death, as well as provincial standards for the provision of evidence-based treatment and recovery services, along with requirements for reporting outcomes. There should not be a dichotomy between access to life-saving safer supply and access to life-saving treatment options.”

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