At least 1,011 lives were lost to suspected illicit drug toxicity in B.C. between January and June 2021, according to data released by the BC Coroners Service.
"The deaths of more than 1,000 British Columbians in the first six months of 2021 is a tragic reminder that the toxic illicit drug supply remains a significant ongoing threat to public health and safety in communities throughout our province," said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, BC Coroners Service.
"The data released today highlights the immensity of this public health emergency and the need for a wide-scale response. This includes removing barriers to safe supply, ensuring timely access to evidence-based affordable treatment and providing those experiencing problematic substance use with compassionate and viable options to reduce risks and save lives."
In June, 159 British Columbians died as a result of drug toxicity, the ninth consecutive month in which at least 150 British Columbians died as a result of the toxic drug supply.
The total number of lives lost between January and June is the highest recorded in the first six months of a calendar year. Drug toxicity is now the leading cause of death in B.C. for those aged 19 to 39 and is second in terms of reducing total potential years of life.
As with previous months, the illicit drug supply in B.C. is both variable and increasingly toxic, with extreme fentanyl concentrations and carfentanil showing up more frequently in toxicology testing. Post-mortem testing shows that fentanyl continues to be the substance involved in most drug-toxicity deaths — 85 per cent in the first six months of 2021.
Cocaine, methamphetamine and etizolam are also present in significant numbers of deaths. Data confirms, as it has throughout this public health emergency, that illicit substances are driving this health crisis. Prescribed safe supply is not playing a role in the ongoing drug-toxicity crisis.
"Today is International Overdose Awareness Day; a day in which we remember and mourn the family members, friends and neighbours we've lost to drug toxicity," Lapointe said.
"To the thousands of B.C. families grieving the loss of a beloved family member, I extend my heartfelt condolences and my hope that the stories you've shared will continue to influence positive change. Those who died mattered and their loss is felt deeply, and we must continue to urge those in positions of influence across our province and the country to move to urgently implement measures to prevent more unnecessary suffering and death."