Almost six people died every day of drug overdoses in B.C. in April: coroner service

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VICTORIA — The BC Coroners Service says the overdose death rate in British Columbia has nearly doubled since 2016, the year a state of emergency was declared in the crisis.

The service says 176 people died because of toxic illicit drugs in April, a 43 per cent increase from the same month last year, which means almost six British Columbians died of overdose every day.

The toll raises the provincial rate of overdose deaths for 2021 to 39.3 per 100,000 residents, up from 20.4 people per 100,000 in 2016.

The service says the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health authorities account for 61 per cent of all suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths in the province this year.

Fentanyl was detected in 86 per cent of deaths so far in 2021, while the much stronger opioid carfentanil was found in 62 samples, twice the amount found in all of last year.

Sheila Malcolmson, the minister of mental health and addictions, says the progress made on combating the overdose crisis was lost when the pandemic began.

"Now, as we see our province turning the corner on COVID-19, it hurts even more to see overdose fatalities continue to mount," she says in a news release.

The coroner says 79 per cent of those who died were men and 70 per cent of the deaths were aged 30 to 59.

Trevor Halford, B.C. Liberal Opposition critic for mental health and addictions, called on the provincial government to activate the select standing committee on health to work on immediate actions to prevent further deaths.

The statistics come as Vancouver submits its final application to Health Canada for an exemption for federal drug laws for simple possession.

The Vancouver Model proposes thresholds of personal possession levels for 15 of the most common street drugs in a decriminalization plan where police would not arrest or seize drugs under those limits.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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