While it’s hard to call 823 illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C. so far this year good news, the numbers are lower than 2017 and 2018, two years that some hope may represent the peak of the opioid crisis.
The 19 deaths over the first 10 months of 2019 in Chilliwack are about half of all of 2018 when there were 37. In 2017, there were 22 “illicit drug toxicity deaths,” according to the BC Coroners Service.
In 2018, three people died a month due to overdose in Chilliwack. So far in 2019, that’s down to two per month.
Chilliwack’s death rate so far in 2019 ranks 10th for municipalities, behind the 22 deaths in Prince George in Nanaimo.
There were 39 deaths in Abbotsford, fourth behind Victoria (48), Surrey (105), and Vancouver (210).
The illegal drug overdose death rate, however, measured per 100,000 persons, was highest in Princeton at 81.3. Grand Forks was second at 52.9 per 100,000, the Keremeos at 51.6, Vancouver at 49.2, followed by Hope at 49.
While the numbers seem to be going down, a promising trend, according to chief coroner Lisa Lapointe, there still exists a “crisis of unsafe supply.”
“While Coroners Service data shows that the number of fatalities related to illicit drug toxicity has decreased this year, we know from our partners in health care that the number of non-fatal drug toxicity events remains high,” Lapointe said. “The drug supply in our province is unpredictable and perilous, and the long-term impacts of drug toxicity can be severe.”
Preliminary data suggests that the proportion of illicit drug toxicity deaths in B.C. for which illicit fentanyl was detected (alone or in combination with other drugs) was approximately 87 per cent in 2018 and 85 per cent in 2019.
Coroners Service data also shows that there is a correlation to drug overdose deaths and when people receive income assistance. Drug toxicity deaths are 48 per cent higher on the five days following “Welfare Wednesday” than on all other days of the month. In the five days following the Wednesday of income assistance payment week, an average of 4.0 people died per day over the last year, which compares to 2.7 per day all other days of the month.
• The number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in October and September 2019 in B.C. equates to about 2.1 deaths per day for the two months.
• In 2019, 71 per cent of those dying were aged 30-59. Individuals aged 19-59 have accounted for 89 per cent of illicit drug toxicity deaths.
• Males have accounted for about nine out of every 10 illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2019.
• Vancouver (210), Surrey (105), Victoria (48) and Abbotsford (39) are experiencing the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2019. The four communities account for almost half the illicit drug toxicity deaths in B.C. this year.
• Princeton, Grand Forks and Keremeos continue to report the highest rates of illicit drug toxicity deaths, with more than 50 deaths per 100,000 people in the 2017-19 period.
• Survival from an overdose event can still lead to long-term adverse health impacts as a result of brain injury due to a lack of oxygen.