In first half of 2021 more than 1,000 people have died in B.C. from suspected drug toxicity

Drug toxicity is now the leading cause of death for young people in B.C., according to the BC Coroners Service, which has recorded at least 1,011 overdose deaths in the first half of 2021.

In a statement on International Overdose Awareness Day Tuesday, chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said this is a tragic reminder that the toxic illicit drug supply remains a significant ongoing threat to public health and safety.

“The data released today highlights the immensity of this public health emergency and the need for a wide-scale response,” she said, in the statement.

Lapointe said this must include removing barriers to safe supply, ensuring timely access to evidence-based affordable treatment and providing those experiencing problematic substance use with compassionate and viable options to reduce risks and save lives.

In June, 159 British Columbians died as a result of drug toxicity, the ninth consecutive month in which at least 150 people died.

“Today is International Overdose Awareness Day; a day in which we remember and mourn the family members, friends and neighbours we’ve lost to drug toxicity,” said Lapointe, in a statement.

“To the thousands of B.C. families grieving the loss of a beloved family member, I extend my heartfelt condolences and my hope that the stories you’ve shared will continue to influence positive change. Those who died mattered and their loss is felt deeply, and we must continue to urge those in positions of influence across our province and the country to move to urgently implement measures to prevent more unnecessary suffering and death.”

The highest number of illicit drug-toxicity deaths were in the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal Health regions, making up 62 per cent of all such deaths during this period.

Deaths due to drug toxicity remain the leading cause of unnatural death in B.C.

Also Tuesday, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs called on the provincial government to take immediate action to address the socioeconomic factors that make First Nations more vulnerable to drug abuse and addiction.

This includes ensuring that First Nations have access to culturally appropriate mental health and addiction services on an as-needed basis, the union said in a statement.

“Indigenous peoples continue to be disproportionately impacted by the opioid overdose crisis and have for far too long borne the brunt of addiction, substance abuse, and unhealthy coping mechanisms that are tied to the colonial legacy of intergenerational trauma and discrimination,” the statement said.

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