BC Drug Deaths: Vancouver Island Not Immune to Record Toxicity Rates

British Columbia communities large and small are suffering devastating losses as deaths from toxic drugs hit an all-time high with 2,224 people dying from drug overdoses in the province last year.

Every health authority recorded a record loss of life in 2021, with an average of six people dying every day from toxic drugs, British Columbia Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe and island communities said Wednesday. of Vancouver were no exception.

“This public health emergency has impacted families and communities across the province and shows no signs of abating,” Lapointe said in a statement.

A total of 327 people died in the island health region last year, compared to 271 deaths in 2020. The Greater Victoria region had the most deaths in 2021, where 130 people died, followed by Nanaimo with 50 deaths and the Comox Valley at 35.

Although the highest numbers of toxic drug overdoses occurred in urban centers on Vancouver Island, a number of rural communities experienced some of the highest death rates.

Port Alberni/Clayoquot Local Health Area (LHA) — where 21 people died — had the highest death rate of Island Health’s 14 LHAs, with a rate of 62 deaths per 100,000 people in 2021.

The Greater Campbell River LHA, which includes Quadra and Cortes Islands, saw 26 people die from toxic drugs, the second highest overdose death rate at 55 per 100,000 people in 2021, up from 32 in 2020.

Greater Victoria’s LHA rate was third highest at 52, while Island Health as a whole saw a death rate of nearly 38 in 2021, down from nearly 32 in 2020.

The illicit drug supply is increasingly toxic, with fentanyl detected in 83 drug samples implicated in overdose deaths, according to the coroner’s office.

However, benzodiazepines or “benzos”, a class of sedative drugs, are increasingly finding their way into the toxic drug supply, posing an additional danger as they are more resistant to naloxone, which is used to revive people who overdose, Lapointe said.

Lapointe again reiterated the urgent need for a safe and easily accessible supply of prescribed alternatives to toxic street drugs, which contain a mix of deadly and unpredictable substances.

“We need decision-makers at all levels to recognize and respond to this public health emergency with the level of urgency it demands,” Lapointe said, noting governments’ willingness to act decisively while the pandemic saved lives during this parallel public health crisis.

“We need to provide people with access to the substances they need, where and when they need them,” she said.

“Time is up for research and discussion. It’s time to take action.”

Guy Felicella, a clinical peer adviser at Vancouver Coastal Health, said each of the deaths associated with the toxic supply were preventable because authorities did not learn from their mistakes.

“Don’t change anything and nothing changes,” Felicella said. “This approach kills and continues to kill people.”

The province has called on the federal government to decriminalize personal possession of illicit drugs to reduce overdoses and the harms and stigma experienced by people who use drugs.

But New Democrat MPs on Vancouver Island are also trying to rally support for a federal private member’s bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of drugs, eliminate criminal records for similar convictions and improve access to secure supply.

The bill was introduced by Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns, who is also the NDP’s federal critic for mental health and addictions.

“The data released by the BC Coroner’s Office is absolutely staggering and heartbreaking,” Johns said in a statement Wednesday.

The federal government has failed to act on the toxic drug crisis in which 20,000 people have died since the Liberal government came to power, Johns said, adding that there was little in the new mandate of the Department of Mental Health and Additions that would suggest radical change. of cours.

“Liberals must urgently respond to this emergency, so that no more lives are lost needlessly.

North Island MP Rachel Blaney, whose riding includes the communities of Campbell River, Discovery Islands and Powell River, supports her colleague’s bill.

People who use drugs should not be treated like criminals, and the toxic drug crisis requires a health-focused approach that provides greater access to harm reduction and treatment, Blaney said in a statement Monday. .

It is clear that the current approach to dealing with the public health crisis is not working, she said.

“I walked with relatives and heard heartbreaking stories of loss in our communities,” Blaney said.

“No family should have to go through this.”

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