VICTORIA — British Columbia's coroners service says more people have died from suspected illicit drug toxicity in the first five months of 2021 than in any other year during the same period.
The agency says 851 people died between January and May, which surpasses the previous high of 704 deaths reported for those months in 2017 by almost 21 per cent.
It says at least 160 people died in May, the second-highest number of suspected drug toxicity deaths recorded for the month.
The service says 27 per cent of drug samples tested in April and 25 per cent in May contained "extreme concentrations" of fentanyl, which are the highest rates reported since at least the beginning of 2019.
Carfentanil, a more potent analogue of fentanyl, has been detected in 75 deaths in 2021, which is already higher than the 65 deaths in which the drug was identified last year.
May was the 15th consecutive month in which British Columbia experienced more than 100 deaths due to drug toxicity.
British Columbia declared a public health emergency more than five years ago because of deaths related to illicit drugs. There were a record 1,176 illicit drug overdose deaths in the province last year and there have been more than 7,000 deaths since the emergency was declared.
Chief corner Lisa Lapointe says the deaths are happening at an "almost unimaginable rate."
"There is no way to measure the catastrophic impact that the loss of these lives have had on every community in our province," she said in a news release.
Sheila Malcolmson, provincial minister of mental health and addictions, said more than five people a day are dying in the province because of "poisoned, unpredictable drugs."
"Many are eager to socialize as COVID-19 restrictions lift, and people must be aware illicit drugs are more toxic and unpredictable than ever before. The drugs you might use today are not the same as they were one or two years ago."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2021.
The Canadian Press