B.C. records highest ever number of opioid deaths in May

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The BC Coroners Service has released some disturbing new numbers around drug overdose deaths.

In May, the province recorded 170 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths — the highest monthly total ever recorded in B.C. It equates to about 5.5 deaths a day.

It’s a 93-per-cent spike over the number of deaths in May 2019, and a 44-per-cent increase over April 2020.

In comparison, 53 people died from COVID-19 in the same month.

The B.C. cities with the highest number of opioid deaths were Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria.

The increase appears to be connected to increased toxicity of drugs compared with previous months. The coroners’ report found there was a surge in the number of cases with extreme fentanyl concentrations.

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“The number of deaths in each health authority is at or near the highest monthly total ever recorded,” the report said. “However, Island Health has surpassed its highest number by 36 per cent (38 deaths in May).”

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The report says 70 per cent of people who died of illicit drug deaths so far this year were 19 to 49 years old.

In 2019 and 2018, about 67 per cent of deaths recorded were in this age range.

3:42 Dr. Bonnie Henry on B.C.’s continuing overdose crisis during COVID-19 pandemic

Dr. Bonnie Henry on B.C.’s continuing overdose crisis during COVID-19 pandemic

The coroners service says 56 per cent of the deaths in May occurred in private homes, 26 per cent in other residences, 15 per cent happened outdoors and one per cent inside other locations.

There were no deaths recorded at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.

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Advocates for drug users had been warning for weeks that the COVID-19 pandemic will exacerbate the province’s existing opioid overdose crisis.

Growing concern has increased calls for the province to provide a clean supply of opioids for people with addictions. Last year, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry called for a decriminalization of people who use drugs, but stopped short of recommending the prescription of opioids to people who use drugs.

1:16 Provincial Health Officer calls for decriminalization of hard drugs

Provincial Health Officer calls for decriminalization of hard drugs

The province recently introduced new clinical guidance for the prescription of opioids that could make it easier for drug users to get access to safe drugs in an effort to reduce the risk of overdose and promote physical distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

-with files from Simon Little

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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