A concerning 170 people died from fatal overdoses in B.C. in May, marking the highest number of deaths in a single month since the crisis was declared in 2016.
That’s roughly 11 people every two days, according to BC Coroners Service data released Thursday (June 11).
The spike in fatalities is part of a notable trend in the province as social distancing restrictions due to COVID-19 has pushed drug users indoors.
In March, 113 people died from illicit drugs, followed by a further 118 people in April.
“More British Columbians died of overdose in one month than died in the whole first wave of COVID-19,” said Guy Felicella, a peer clinical supervisor with the BC Centre for Substance Use.
“All British Columbians should collectively share our grief and urge action to improve access to safer supply so people can get the help they need.”
A total of 554 people have fatally overdosed since the beginning of the year, with 128 lives lost in Vancouver, 72 in Surrey and 49 in Victoria.
Eighty-five per cent of all deaths have occurred indoors.
Most concerning, according to Postmortem toxicology results, is that nearly 20 per cent of the deaths in April and May involved extreme fentanyl concentrations. That’s compared to just nine per cent in January 2019 to March 2020.
“The drug supply is unpredictable and highly toxic, and has led to a sustained increase in fatal and non-fatal overdoses from smoking and injection in recent months,” said Dr. Jane Buxton, harm reduction lead for the BC Centre for Disease Control.
“COVID-19 has added challenges and people may be feeling more isolated and anxious, but it’s important to continue to buddy up, or access local overdose prevention and supervised consumption services during this time.”
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