The Province

165 die of drug overdoses in deadliest January on record


Illicit drug overdoses claimed 165 lives in January, the highest tally of deaths ever recorded in B.C. for the month.

The 165 deaths are more than double the 81 deaths in January 2020, and a seven-percent jump over the 154 deaths in December 2020, said the B.C. Coroners Service.

“These figures are heartbreak­ing, both in scale and for the number of families who are grieving the loss of a loved one,” said chief coroner Lisa Lapointe in a statement.

“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.”

The grim tally translates to an average of 5.3 lives lost each day, continuing a trend over the last 10 months of at least 100 people dying from illicit drug overdoses each month. According to the coroner's report, almost one in five of the deaths in January had “extreme” levels of fentanyl concentrat­ion, or greater than 50 micrograms/litre — the highest number recorded to date.

There has also been a spike in deaths in which carfentani­l, a more lethal analogue of fentanyl, and benzodiaze­pines, including its analogue etizolam, were detected.

In January, 14 deaths were attributed to contaminat­ion by carfentani­l, more than December's nine.

Benzodiaze­pines, on the other hand, were detected in nearly half, or 49 per cent, of the deaths, a dramatic increase from 15 per cent in July.

The coroner said the addition of etizolam to fentanyl increases the likelihood of an overdose as both drugs suppress the nervous system.

Etizolam, which is not permitted

in Canada, is not an opioid, and the opioid antidote naloxone may not work against it.

“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,” said


Sheila Malcolmson, minister of mental health and addictions, said the government has stepped up its response to the overdose crisis.

“We are resolved to continue our work to add more treatment and recovery options, more services and supports for communitie­s throughout B.C., and to work with the federal government to move forward on decriminal­ization,” she said.

“At the same time, we are going to continue building the culturally safe, evidence-based system of mental health and addictions care that people deserve.”

Illicit drug overdoses claimed a record 1,726 lives in 2020.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada