Toxic drugs kill at least 192 British Columbians in March: coroner

The BC Coroners Service (BCCS) says at least 192 people in the province were killed in March by unregulated toxic drugs.

In a release Tuesday, the service adds at least 572 people have been killed in the first three months of 2024 by the illicit toxic supply.

However, the latest number shows a decrease of around 11 per cent in the number of deaths when compared to March 2023, when 215 people were killed — approximately 6.9 people per day.

In March this year, 6.2 people per day died due to the unregulated drug supply, the coroners service explains.

“So far this year, about seven in every 10 of those who have died from toxic drugs were between the ages of 30 and 59. While nearly three-quarters of those killed have been males, it is worth noting that the rate of death among females is climbing year over year: 23 deaths per 100,000 in 2024, compared with 20.6 deaths per 100,000 females for all of 2023,” the service said Tuesday.

“For British Columbians between 10 and 59, unregulated drug toxicity is the leading cause of death, accounting for more deaths than homicides, suicides, accidents and natural disease combined. Since the public-health emergency was first declared in April 2016, at least 14,400 people in the province have lost their lives to toxic drugs.”

The BCCS says Vancouver, Surrey, and Nanaimo have so far in 2024 seen the highest number of unregulated toxic drug deaths, with the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health authorities making up 51 per cent of all deaths.

“In 2024, 84% of unregulated drug deaths in 2024 have occurred inside (47% in private homes and 37% inside social and supportive housing, single-room occupancy buildings (known as SROs), shelters, hostels and other indoor locations) and 15% were reported to be outside in vehicles, sidewalks, streets or parks,” the coroners service explained.

Fentanyl was detected in 85 per cent of the deaths that the coroner received toxicology testing on, the service said.

In a statement, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside says the coroners service reports are “more than just a summary of statistics, it’s a profound reminder of the lives lost to toxic drugs in British Columbia.”

“We mourn the passing of 192 individuals in March and the devastating loss to their families, communities and our province. These were people with hopes, dreams and stories cut tragically short by a crisis that continues to challenge us deeply,” she said.

“These losses underscore the urgency with which we must continue to respond to this public-health emergency. We remember not only those we’ve lost but also their families and friends left to grieve.”

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