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Drug toxicity death rates are increasing in Northern Health: BC Coroners Report

Overdoses deaths have now claimed 35 lives in Prince George this year
Northern Health has the highest rate of illicit drug overdose death at 53 per 100,000 individuals.

As of June 30, drug overdose deaths have claimed 35 lives in Prince George this year, according to the newest data from the B.C. Coroners Service Report. 

That number is up by six from the Coroners Service report in July, which included deaths up until the end of May.

A total of 81 deaths have been reported in the Northern Health region this year as well. Of those, 45 were in the Northern Interior (which includes Prince George), 22 in the Northwest, and 15 in the Northeast health service delivery areas.

Last year, the highest rates per capita were in Northern Health (53 deaths per 100,000 individuals) and Vancouver Coastal Health (47 per 100,000).

Overall, the rate in B.C. is 42 deaths per 100,000 individuals in 2022.

The coroners report says illicit drug rates in Northern Health have increased, while death rates in all other health authorities have decreased.

Ten thousand lives have now been lost in B.C. to illicit drugs since the declaration of the public health emergency in 2016 and at least 1,095 British Columbians are believed to have been lost to the toxic drug supply between January and June 2022.

"The ever-increasing toxicity of the unregulated, illicit drug market is taking a heart-breaking toll on the lives and well-being of members of our communities across the province," said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, in a news release.

"Deaths due to toxic drugs in the first half of 2022 have surpassed the number of deaths experienced in the same period in 2021, putting our province, once again, on track for a record loss of life."

The number of lives lost to toxic drugs in B.C. between January and June is the highest ever recorded in the first six months of a calendar year.

More than three quarters (78 per cent) of the lives lost in 2022 were male and nearly the same percentage (73 per cent) were between the ages of 30-59. On average, more than six lives have been lost to illicit drugs every day this year.

Illicit drug toxicity is the leading cause of unnatural death in British Columbia and is second only to cancers in terms of years of life lost.

“These were men, women and youth from all walks of life. They lived in our neighbourhoods, worked in our workplaces and played on our sports teams. Some lived ordinary lives, while others faced enormous challenges,” said Lapointe.

“All of them fell prey to the lethal supply of illicit drugs that is omnipresent. As recommended by the subject matter experts on the recent Death Review Panel, it is imperative that we urgently provide access to safer supply across our province. It's only when we drastically reduce people's reliance on the profit-driven, illicit drug trade, that we will save lives and turn the trajectory of this crisis around."

A new drug checking machine is also now available in Prince George to help people check what is in their drugs before using, to help prevent overdose. 

A Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) drug checking machine is operational in the city in partnership with the POUNDS Project (Preventing Overdose Undoing Stigma) and is available six days a week. 

It can be accessed in the mornings from 10 am to 2 p.m. from Wednesday-Saturday and in the evenings 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday-Sunday (closed Mondays), at the POUNDS project at 1126 Third Ave.


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