Overdose deaths decrease in B.C. but officials say safer drug supply needed

VICTORIA—Overdose deaths linked to illicit drugs dropped by 36 per cent last year in British Columbia compared with a year earlier, but the number of fatalities is about the same as when the province declared a provincial health emergency four years ago.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said Monday 981 people died of suspected overdoses in 2019.

She said that represents an average of 2.7 deaths a day and the number is likely to increase as investigations of last year’s deaths conclude.

Of those who died, 747 were men and 234 were women, and their ages ranged from 13 to 76.

“The majority of those who died were men in their 30s, 40s and 50s,” Lapointe told a news conference.

Lapointe said more than 5,000 people have died in B.C. since 2016 when the health emergency was declared as the opioid fentanyl was increasingly detected in street drugs.

She said the B.C. Coroners Service is joining health officials in renewing calls for improved access to a regulated, safer drug supply in the province.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the reduction in numbers last year indicates harm-reduction measures are making a difference.

“The work we are doing around keeping people alive is working,” she said.

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TORONTO STAR