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.