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B.C. sees record-breaking spike in illicit drug overdoses in January

Last Updated Mar 2, 2021 at 11:14 pm PDT


January saw a record-breaking number of drug overdose deaths for the first month of the year

165 people died of suspected illicit drug toxicity in January, B.C. coroner says

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The number of people dying of illicit drug overdoses in B.C. continues to spike into 2021.

The BC Coroners Service reports 165 people died of suspected illicit drug toxicity in January, the highest number ever recorded in the first month of the year.

“These figures are heartbreaking, both in scale and for the number of families who are grieving the loss of a loved one,” says Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe. “In the fifth year of this public health emergency, there is virtually no community in the province that hasn’t been touched by this devastating loss of life.”

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Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson blames the increase on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is the toxic supply from the pandemic-induced border closures and more people using drugs alone because of social isolation. That has led to the terrible increase,” she said.

“When people use toxic drugs alone, they die alone — and that is happening more and more through the pandemic,” she added.

According to the BC Coroners’ report, this staggering number averages to about five deaths per day in the month of January. Many of the deaths were linked to fentanyl.

“We’re particularly concerned about the toxicity of the drugs detected in many of the deaths recorded in January,” Lapointe adds. “The findings suggest that the already unstable drug supply in B.C. is becoming even deadlier, underscoring the urgent need for supervised consumption options, prescribing for safe supply, and accessible treatment and recovery services.”

Leslie McBain is with the advocacy group, “Moms Stop the Harm.” She says, hearing the sheer number of people dying every day is horrifying.

“I felt it myself. I lost my son to a drug overdose several years ago and it never goes away. I look at the family, that’s 165 families, you can multiply that by 10 or 20 for the number of people who have been impacted who are grieving whose lives have been changed,” she tells CityNews.

McBain feels, quicker action is needed on every level of government.

On Tuesday, The federal government announced that nearly $3.5 million is being invested to expand the safer supply project, which will allow people to access safer drugs dispensed through what looks like vending machines.

Four more of the “MySafe” machines are being placed across the country, including one in Victoria and a second one in Vancouver.

However, creator Dr. Mark Tyndall says much more is needed, and some places are underserved.

“My goal would be to get more machines out there, because right now they tend to be in large urban centers,” he says. “I think they would be even more suited to places where they don’t have very much happening with harm reduction on the whole and they still have a lot of overdoses,” he says.

Of the approximately 20 people registered with the pilot project in Vancouver, two have been able to get into recovery and no longer use drugs, and Dr. Tyndall says others have been able to reduce their use.

“All along I’ve really argued the biggest benefit of this, beside preventing people from dying, is people can get their life back a little bit and don’t have to worry about hustling for drugs and running away from police all the time,” he says.

No deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.

The City of Vancouver continues its efforts to decriminalize simple possession in the city.

It’s now submitting a preliminary application to Health Canada outlining its “Vancouver Model”, with a health-focused approach at addiction, aimed at recovery, not jail time.

Last year, more than 1,700 people died as a result of illicit drug overdoses.

The BC Coroners Service says 165 people died in January of this year; Which works out to about five people per day.


– Frances Yap, Dean Recksiedler, John Ackermann and Ashley Burr