At least 161 people in B.C. died due to toxic drugs in April: coroner

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Flags that represent the lives lost due to drug overdoses are pictured during a Moms Stop The Harm memorial on the sixth anniversary of the opioid public health emergency in Vancouver on April 14. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Flags that represent the lives lost due to drug overdoses are pictured during a Moms Stop The Harm memorial on the sixth anniversary of the opioid public health emergency in Vancouver on April 14. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

At least 161 people died in April as a result of the toxic drug supply in British Columbia, according to the latest figures from the coroners' service.

The numbers released Thursday represent more than five deaths every day, which means illicit drugs continue to kill more British Columbians "than homicides, motor-vehicle incidents, drownings, deaths by suicide and fire-related deaths combined," chief coroner Lisa Lapointe wrote in a statement.

"The reality is that every time someone uses drugs purchased from the unregulated market, their life is at risk," she said.

The figures are a small drop from March, when 165 people died, and down from 174 in February and 209 in January.

Still, figures from the B.C. Coroners Service show a total of 722 deaths in the first four months of the year, surpassing last year's record by one.

In response to the crisis, B.C. is set to decriminalize small amounts of drugs at the end of January 2023. Those 18 and over will not face criminal penalties for possessing a total of 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA, also known as ecstasy. Police would no longer confiscate drugs.

Lapointe, who has said the 2.5-gram threshold is too low, said Thursday anyone using drugs needs to do so with someone else present.

"Until a safer, regulated supply is widely accessible, I encourage those using drugs to use only in the presence of someone who can provide help and call for medical assistance if that's required," she wrote.

"Anyone using illicit substances, whether they are regular or occasional drug users and whether they know their dealer or not, is currently at risk from the unpredictable, unregulated supply."

The coroners' service said benzodiazepines, which don't respond to the overdose-reversing medication naloxone, were found in 45 per cent of samples in April — more than double the 20 per cent detected in July 2020.

B.C. saw a record number of overdose fatalities last year, when 2,236 people died.

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