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B.C.’s unregulated toxic drug supply kills 184 people in June

New data shows 184 people lost their lives to the unregulated drug supply in B.C. in June.

The figures come from the BC Coroners Service, which notes more than 1,200 deaths have been attributed to toxic drugs in the first six months of 2023.

It notes the communities experiencing the highest number of deaths are Vancouver, Surrey, and Greater Victoria.

The service says “illicit fentanyl continues to be the primary driver in unregulated drug deaths,” adding that drug or an analogue were found in more than 90 per cent of toxicology tests last month.

“Almost all unregulated drug deaths are the result of mixed drug toxicity,” the service explains, adding nearly three quarters of toxicology tests “indicated the presence of a stimulant.”

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“British Columbia is continuing to lose community members at record rates as a result of the toxicity of the unregulated drug market ,” said Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe.

“Illicit fentanyl continues to drive the crisis, which is causing deaths in large and small municipalities, towns and cities across the province. This health emergency is not confined to one neighbourhood or one demographic. Anyone accessing an illicit substance is at risk of serious harm or death.”

The coroners service says the unregulated, toxic supply is the leading cause of death in B.C. for those aged 10 to 59.

It adds smoking is the mode of consumption in most of the suspected unregulated drug deaths, and that more than 80 per cent of the drug-related deaths so far this year happened indoors, nearly half of them in a home.

“As coroners, we speak every day to families who are grieving the loss of a loved one,” Lapointe said. “Our agency continues to recommend rapid expansion of a safer drug supply throughout the province to reduce the significant harms associated with the toxic illicit drug market and prevent future deaths.”

In April, the province marked seven years since a public health emergency was declared over the toxic drug crisis. Since the declaration, the coroners service says 12,509 people have died.

“We know the illicit drug supply has become increasingly toxic and volatile since the COVID-19 pandemic. People who use drugs recreationally and regularly are all at high risk of a toxic drug poisoning. If you plan to use – whether at home, at a party or event – please stay safe,” Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside said Wednesday.

On Jan. 1, 2023, B.C. became the first province in Canada to decriminalize small amounts of drugs for personal consumption.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions said in response to an op-ed that criticized some of B.C.’s drug policies that the province is tackling the drug crisis from “every angle.”

It says it agrees with Delta Police Chief Neil Dubord’s assessment that “a whole-system approach” is needed to deal with the issue. However, the ministry goes on to say “decriminalization is one critical way” the province is tackling the problem.

The ministry adds the government plans to spend $1 billion — highlighted in its latest budget — toward addressing addiction, with $586 million included for “treatment and recovery.”

“Our government is working urgently to build an integrated and seamless system of mental-health and addictions care that works for all British Columbians, including new treatment and recovery options, and early intervention and prevention measures,” Whiteside added in her statement Wednesday.

“We know there is more to do, and we won’t stop working until we end this crisis.”

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