Four people have died from unregulated drugs in Merritt through the first four months of 2023, with 814 lives lost throughout the province. Preliminary data from the BC Coroners Service shows that April 2023 was the 31st consecutive month in which at least 150 lives were lost to unregulated drugs in B.C., and the 13th month in which more than 200 deaths were reported.

The province noted in a press release that the illicit drug supply remains highly volatile, challenging people’s best efforts to use safely and challenging life-saving responses. B.C.’s top coroner noted that fentanyl, often mixed with other drugs, is present in eight out of every 10 deaths.

“Illicit fentanyl continues to be the main and most lethal driver of B.C.’s drug-toxicity public-health emergency, having been detected in 86% of deaths in 2022 and 79% of deaths in 2023,” said Lisa Lapointe, the province’s chief coroner. 

“Cocaine, methamphetamines and/or benzodiazepines are also often present. This drug poisoning crisis is the direct result of an unregulated drug market. Members of our communities are dying because non-prescribed, non-pharmaceutical fentanyl is poisoning them on an unprecedented scale.”

The newly released report also shows an increase in the presence of benzodiazepines, which is largely the result of enhancements to benzodiazepine testing by the Provincial Toxicology Centre. More than 12,046 British Columbians have been lost to unregulated and toxic drugs in since the start of the public health emergency in April 2016. 

Along with the decriminalization of some drugs in limited quantities at the end of January, the provincial government said it is taking steps to reinforce evidence-based treatment options, increase access to safer supply, and implement other essential harm-reduction tools to end the ongoing illicit drug death crisis. Despite some controversy about safe supply diversion to the illicit drug market, including the possibility of children accessing safe supply drugs, B.C.’s representative for children and youth, Jennifer Charlesworth, said there is no evidence that diverted safer supply has been a factor in the youth toxic drug-related deaths and injuries reported to her.

“Based on the reports of critical injuries and deaths that my office reviews every month, we have not seen any indication that youth are using from diverted supply,” Charlesworth said. “The injuries and deaths reported to us are as a result of youth accessing the illicit supply and they are typically using an array of substances. Through our advocacy work and in-depth reviews, young people are advising us that they are accessing an illicit supply in order to cope with the trauma that they are dealing with in their lives.”

Drug-checking services and overdose prevention sites have become more common across the province, including in the Nicola Valley. ASK Wellness Society offers drug checking services at their downtown Quilchena Avenue location. Previously, it was reporter that two deaths have taken place at overdose prevention sites in B.C., one in 2022, and one this year, but the latest report shows after further investigation, one death has now been excluded.

Through the first four months of 2023, 70 percent of those dying were 30 to 59, and 77 percent were male.