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Nearly 200 lives lost to B.C.’s unregulated toxic drug supply in July, coroner reports

Nearly 200 people died because of the toxic, unregulated drug supply in B.C. in July, the Coroners Service says, noting this marks the 13th consecutive month that more than 190 lives have been lost to the crisis.

The service says preliminary data shows 198 people died last month, continuing a grim trend in the province amid a crisis that “shows no signs of abating.”

“We are continuing to experience record numbers of deaths provincewide because of the toxic drug supply. The unregulated illicit market is highly unpredictable and continues to put thousands of lives at risk each month. Despite recommendations for the urgent expansion of a safer drug supply, very few have access to a stable, lower-risk alternative,” said Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe.

The coroner says between January and July of this year, at least 1,455 deaths were linked to the unregulated toxic drug supply. This, the service says, is the largest number reported by the agency in the first seven months of a calendar year.

“In just two days, we’ll recognize International Overdose Awareness Day,” Lapointe said. “This most sombre of occasions is an important opportunity to recognize all our family members, friends, colleagues and neighbours who have been lost to unregulated drugs. While we honour their memory and grieve alongside their loved ones, we must urge decision-makers to do more to stop these preventable deaths from occurring. The critical risks and losses of life resulting from this public health emergency deserve an urgent response. We must not accept the continued loss of six lives each and every day.”

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The BC Coroners Service says people who use drugs in this province “face an extreme risk of significant injury or death.” It notes unregulated drug toxicity is the leading cause of death in people aged 10 to 59 in B.C. — more than homicides, suicides, accidents, and disease combined.

B.C. declared a public health emergency in April 2016 because of the drug crisis. Since that time, the Coroners Service says 12,739 deaths have been attributed to this toxic supply.

“The pain of loss weighs heavily on us. It is a somber reminder of the urgency to act with determination and compassion. No one is immune to the struggles of addiction, and we must continue to support those who are struggling. Every person matters, and every life is worth fighting for,” said Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jennifer Whiteside.

While the 198 deaths in July 2023 marks a decrease of five per cent from the same month last year, the service says the number of lives lost last month was a four per cent increase over June 2023.

“There is no evidence that prescribed safer supply is contributing to unregulated drug deaths,” the BC Coroners Service adds.

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