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182 deaths linked to B.C. unregulated drugs in April, 14,500 deaths in eight years

VICTORIA — The British Columbia Coroners Service says 182 people died in April from drug overdoses.
Seized Fentanyl is displayed during a press conference at BC RCMP Divisional Headquarters in Surrey, B.C., Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin

VICTORIA — The British Columbia Coroners Service says 182 people died in April from drug overdoses.

A statement from the service says the toll represents a 24 per cent decrease in deaths from April 2023, but "the risk posed by unregulated drug supply remains very high."

It says in the eight years since the public-health emergency was declared, 14,582 people in the province have died from toxic drugs, including 763 in the first four months of this year.

The coroner says fentanyl continues to be the primary driver of overdoses this year, and was detected in 82 per cent of toxicological tests.

Unregulated drug toxicity remains the leading cause of death for people in the province between the ages of 10 and 59, and accounts for more deaths than homicides, suicides, accidents and natural disease combined.

The statement says about 70 per cent of the people who died in April were male and the death rate for females has nearly doubled since 2020, from about 13 to 23 per 100,000 in 2024.

Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jennifer Whiteside calls the latest deaths tragic.

"We're taking action to build up services that we know work for people and we'll continue to look for more ways to connect people to the care they need," she said in a separate statement.

"Because for as many pathways as there are into addiction, we need just as many pathways toward healing and recovery."

The latest numbers released Thursday come a day after Premier David Eby announced the appointment of Dr. Daniel Vigo as the province's first chief scientific adviser for psychiatry, toxic drugs and concurrent disorders.

Vigo's role focuses on improving the care for people with overlapping mental-health and addiction issues and brain injuries from toxic-drug poisoning.

Eby said on Wednesday that some of the people who survive overdoses are left with life-altering brain injuries that affect their ability to function.

He said patients with overlapping needs who live and get care in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside often suffer repeated health emergencies.

The premier said 612 patients went to emergency rooms 10 times or more last year, including one person who made 180 visits.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2024.

The Canadian Press