VICTORIA — The coroners service in British Columbia says nearly 1,500 people have died this year from illicit drug use in the province.
New data from the service cites 169 drug deaths last month, representing a 12 per cent decrease from July, and equating to about 5.5 deaths per day.
It says illicit drug toxicity is the leading cause of unnatural death in B.C., with an average of 184 drug deaths each month since October 2020.
The service says that so far this year, 71 per cent of those dying from toxic drugs were between the ages 30 and 59, and 78 per cent were male.
Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe says there is an urgent need for the government to develop a provincial framework for safer supply distribution.
The service says no deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or overdose prevention sites, and toxicology results showed no indication that prescribed safe supply has contributed to the deaths.
Lapointe referred to a report released in March by a death review panel that examined more than 6,000 overdose deaths from August 2017 through July 2021. It found the primary cause of illicit drug overdoses is a combination of an increasingly toxic supply and a current policy framework that forces users to go to illegal sources.
Sheila Malcolmson, the minister of mental health and addictions, says the government is working hard to build a system of care that didn't exist when the crisis was declared six years ago.
"We are offering innovative harm-reduction solutions, like prescribed safe supply — the only province in Canada to do so — and are adding new treatment beds and recovery services throughout B.C.," she says in a statement.
"We are also the only province in Canada to decriminalize people who use drugs, so that we can remove the stigma and shame associated with substance use. We agree addiction is a health-care issue, not a criminal one."
In June, Ottawa approved a three-year exception to federal drug laws, and beginning next year, B.C. will become the first province where people won't be arrested or charged for possessing up to 2.5 grams of certain illicit drugs.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2022.
The Canadian Press