When British Columbians hear the words “public health emergency,” their first thought may naturally be the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The province is currently going through another public health emergency in the toxic drug crisis, which has again resulted in a record high number of deaths for the seventh straight calendar month. 

Preliminary data from the BC Coroners Service show that 192 individuals died due to the use of toxic substances in July 2022. This number represents a 31 percent increase in deaths from the same time period last year, and accounts for approximately 6.2 deaths in the province on a daily basis. Close to 1300 deaths caused by toxic drugs were reported between January and July of this year.

“As they have for the past seven years, these numbers reflect the ever-present threat that illicit drugs pose to substance users across B.C.,” said Lisa Lapointe, BC’s chief coroner. 

“The unregulated drug market continues to be volatile and toxic, and anyone using drugs purchased from illicit suppliers is at high risk for serious harm or death. We continue to urge those using illicit drugs to access drug-checking services, where available, or visit overdose-prevention sites, where available.”

Illicit drug toxicity is currently the leading cause of unnatural death in BC, and is second only to cancer in terms of years of life lost. Since the start of the toxic drug public health emergency in April 2016, at least 10,158 British Columbians have died from the illicit drug supply. Nearby Lilloeet, a part of the same Interior Health system Merritt belongs to, reported one of the highest rates of death by toxic drugs in the latest findings.

This year, 84 percent of drug toxicity deaths have occurred inside, with 57 percent of that number being inside a private residence. Another 15 percent occurred outside in vehicles, parks, on sidewalks and streets. The province says more action is needed in addressing the crisis, and remains committed to supporting those affected. 

“Families and communities across the province are continuing to suffer the sudden and tragic deaths of loved ones due to toxic drugs,” added Lapointe. 

“Whether they are chronically substance-dependent or using only occasionally, all of those who access the illicit drug market are vulnerable to serious harm. The subject-matter experts on the recent death review panel urgently recommended significant expansion of safer supply in communities throughout the province in order to reduce the devastation caused by this public-health crisis.”

Northern BC continues to see a spike in death rates, seeing 53 deaths per 100,000 individuals. This is a higher number than the much more densely populated Vancouver Coastal Health region, which sees 49 deaths per 100,000 individuals. The overall  rate of death in B.C. for 2022 is 42 per 100,000 individuals, which is more than double the death rate in 2016, when the public-health emergency was declared.

For more information, or to access support, visit www.stopoverdose.gov.bc.ca.