Preliminary reporting from the BC Coroners Service shows in 2021, 93% of all accidental deaths among people experiencing homelessness were identified as being caused by the illicit drug supply. The findings supports the idea that the homeless population in the province are one of the most vulnerable groups to toxic drug deaths.
In 2021, 247 deaths of individuals experiencing homelessness were reported to the agency, which is a 75% increase in the number of lives lost in 2020.
“This report reflects the risks and realities that people experiencing homelessness face every day,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, BC Coroners Service.
“We know that many are facing significant health concerns, including physical disabilities, mental-health challenges and substance-use issues. Additionally, as is also evident in the province’s housed population, the report details the significant risks associated with toxic drugs for those who are unhoused. My hope is that this information will help support positive action, both during Homelessness Action Week and beyond.”
Taking place from October 9 to October 15, Homelessness Action Week, is an awareness campaign to highlight the troubling realities of homelessness in B.C. The preliminary results from the Coroners Office shows the mortality rate of homeless people in the province, which is one of the harsh realities this segment of the population face.
“The BC Coroners Service’s death review panel report into illicit drug toxicity deaths found a high correlation between deaths due to drug toxicity and persons living in poverty or experiencing housing instability,” Lapointe said.
“Almost one-third of the 2,117 decedents in the panel’s protocol cohort were either living outdoors or in temporary shelters. This data in this release reinforces the panel’s recommendations: the urgent creation of a provincewide framework for distribution of safer supply; the establishment of clear goals, targets and deliverable timeframes to reduce the number of illicit drug toxicity events and deaths; and the establishment of an evidence-based continuum of care.”
The death toll from illicit drug overdose is alarmingly high. Just in the first eight months of 2022, it was reported that 1468 total lives were lost from toxic drug supplies.
“Illicit drug toxicity is the leading cause of unnatural death in British Columbia and is second only to cancers in terms of years of life lost,” stated the Province of BC in a press release.
“At least 10,326 British Columbians have been lost to the illicit drug supply since the public-health emergency for substance-related harms was first declared in April 2016.”
The reporting defines the homeless as “a person living outdoors, in a makeshift shelter, a parked vehicle, or any other structure not intended for habitation; or a person staying at an emergency shelter (overnight) or temporarily sheltered (suspected to be for less than 30 days) by friends or family, in a short-term shelter, temporary modular housing, safe house for youth, or transition house for women and children fleeing violence.” People residing in short-term shelters, safe houses or transition houses for an unknown length of time were included.
To see the report on ‘Deaths of Individuals Experiencing Homelessness 2012-21,’ please visit https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/birth-adoption-death-marriage-and-divorce/deaths/coroners-service/statistical/deaths-of-individuals-experiencing-homelessness.pdf.