Okanagan cities are on track for the deadliest year of the toxic drug crisis, according to new data from the BC Coroners Service.
There were 51 toxic drug deaths in Kelowna, B.C., from January until the end of July, and 27 in Vernon. In all of 2021, there were 75 drug deaths in Kelowna and 43 in Vernon, meaning if the two cities are to keep the pace they’re currently on, they will far exceed last year’s death toll.
The BC Coroners Service reported that the Okanagan as a whole had its deadliest month for overdose deaths, with the number growing by 116 per cent. Throughout the valley in July, there were 26 deaths.
The previous month there were 12 deaths and the month before that there were 20 deaths.
B.C. toxic drug deaths double since 2016
Provincewide, there were 192 people who died of an illegal drug overdose in July, which is a 31-per cent increase over the 147 deaths recorded in June 2022, and equates to approximately 6.2 deaths per day. Nearly 1,300 deaths due to toxic drugs have been reported to the BC Coroners Service between January and July, which is a record number for the first seven months of a calendar year.
“Families and communities across the province are continuing to suffer the sudden and tragic deaths of loved ones due to toxic drugs,” chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said Thursday in a release.
“Whether they are chronically substance-dependent or using only occasionally, all of those who access the illicit drug market are vulnerable to serious harms. The subject-matter experts on the recent death review panel urgently recommended significant expansion of safer supply in communities throughout the province in order to reduce the devastation caused by this public-health crisis.”
Overall, the rate of death due to illegal drug overdoses is 42 per 100,000 individuals, more than twice the death rate in 2016 when the public health emergency was declared.
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.
At least 10,158 British Columbians have been lost to the illicit drug supply since the public-health emergency of substance-related harms was first declared in April 2016.
The province said no deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.
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