Eby laments B.C.'s 'troubling' overdose numbers, as toxic drugs claim 206 more lives

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LANGLEY, B.C. — The latest illicit drug overdose numbers in British Columbia are "profoundly troubling," says Premier David Eby, lamenting the deaths of 206 more people in communities across the province last month.

The BC Coroners Service reported Thursday that the toll of toxic illicit drugs in April brought the total number of deaths to 814 this year.

"What we're seeing is literally hundreds of people die from the toxic drugs in our community," said Eby. "We see things like contamination of drugs with incredibly toxic fentanyl. People think they are taking one drug and they're taking a powerful opiate that can kill them almost immediately."

Fentanyl continues to be the main and most lethal driver of B.C.'s drug overdose crisis, Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said in a statement.

The opioid was detected in 86 per cent of illicit drug deaths last year and 79 per cent of deaths so far this year. It's almost always found in combination with other substances, the coroners' service said.

"This drug poisoning crisis is the direct result of an unregulated drug market," said Lapointe. "Members of our communities are dying because non-prescribed, non-pharmaceutical fentanyl is poisoning them on an unprecedented scale."

Eby, who was in Langley, east of Vancouver, to announce the opening of a new elementary school, said the province's aim of helping people get addiction treatment is up against the spectre of deadly illicit drugs circulating in communities.

"Our government is doing everything we can to keep people alive so that they can get into treatment," he said, calling the crisis "an incredibly challenging issue for government to address."

Elenore Sturko, Opposition BC United mental health and addictions critic, said she wants the government to release more data about its drug supply and addiction treatment policies to help show what does and doesn't work.

"Unfortunately, and I feel sick saying it, we continue to see historically high deaths and it's simply unacceptable," she said after the release of the latest numbers.

Almost 12,000 deaths have been attributed to illegal toxic drugs in B.C. since the province declared a public health emergency in April 2016, the province said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2023.

The Canadian Press