In 2019, 21 people died of an illicit drug overdose in Chilliwack out of 981 across B.C. Lower numbers point to a promising trend but there is still a crisis of unsafe supply, according to the chief coroner. (Paul Henderson/ Progress file)

Illicit drug overdose deaths down 43% in Chilliwack in 2019

Across B.C. the number is still higher than motor vehicle incidents, suicides and homicides combined

Illicit drug overdose deaths were down 43 per cent in Chilliwack in 2019 compared to 2018, something that seems like good news but the numbers are still high amid the ongoing opioid crisis across the province and beyond.

There were 21 illicit drug toxicity deaths in Chilliwack in 2019, which is down from 37 in 2018 and on par with the 22 in 2017, which represented a steep increase in the number of deaths across B.C., according to a recent report from the BC Coroners Service.

Provincewide there were 981 deaths last year, down 36 per cent from the 1,543 in 2018.

• READ MORE: VIDEO: Illicit drug overdoses killed 981 in B.C. in 2019, down 36%

• READ MORE: Illicit drug overdose fatalities continue in Chilliwack

And while the 21 deaths locally last year represents a decline, that compares to the 10-year average prior to 2019 of 11.4 deaths a year. Of those 21, in 19 cases fentanyl was detected in the deceased person.

That 2019 number puts Chilliwack number 11 on the list of deaths by top townships of injury, just below Prince George and the same as Penticton.

Abbotsford saw 46 deaths, Surrey 123 and Vancouver 245.

“More than 5,000 lives have been lost in B.C. since 2016 as a result of illicit drug toxicity,” B.C.’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said in a press release. “These deaths have deeply hurt families and communities across our province and represent an immense loss of potential in all walks of life. The number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2019 remains higher than motor vehicle incidents, suicides and homicides combined, and B.C. continues to bear the heaviest toll of the impacts of the unpredictable, profit-driven, illicit drug market.”

Lapointe said she urges for greater access to a safe supply for those struggling with addiction.

A continuing trend highlighted in the report is that middle-aged men are over-represented with more than three quarters of the suspected overdose deaths involving males and 71 per cent involving people aged 30 to 59.

Eighty-seven per cent of deaths continue to occur indoors, with more people dying on the days immediately following the issuance of income assistance payments than all other days in the year.

Other facts from the report:

• The number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2019 in B.C. equates to about 2.7 deaths per day for the year;

• There was at least one illicit drug toxicity death in 330 of the 365 days in 2019;

• Vancouver Coastal Health Authority had the highest rate of illicit drug toxicity deaths (23 deaths per 100,000 individuals), followed by Northern Health Authority (22.5 deaths per 100,000 individuals) in 2019;

• Overall, the rate in B.C. was 19 deaths per 100,000 individuals in 2019;

• By local health area, the rates of illicit drug toxicity deaths were highest in Princeton, Grand Forks, Hope, Keremeos, and Merritt, from 2017 to 2019.

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