Five people a day on average died of illicit drug overdoses in October, the B.C. Coroners Service said Wednesday.
At 162 deaths, it’s the fifth month this year with more than 160 suspected illicit drug deaths reported to the coroners service and more than double the number of people who died as a result of a toxic drug supply in October 2019, said Lisa Lapointe, B.C.’s chief coroner.
It’s a 26 per cent increase from the 129 people who died of an overdose in September 2020, and the eighth consecutive month with more than 100 illicit drug overdoses.
A toxic drug supply is causing the deaths of a record-breaking numbers of people, Lapointe said.
“Challenges during COVID-19, such as access to key harm-reduction services and the toxic drug supply, including the extreme concentration of illicit fentanyl, are resulting in continuing significant and tragic loss of life across the province,” she said.
Kathleen Radu of Saanich said October’s numbers made her sick to her stomach, knowing that 162 mothers lost a child. Radu’s son Morgan Goodridge died of an overdose in June, when the province recorded 175 overdose deaths.
After several rounds of treatment in Victoria and Vancouver, Goodridge, who was 26, had been drug-free for five months, but on June 16, he relapsed, taking what turned out to be a fatal dose of heroin laced with fentanyl.
The night before he died in his Vancouver home, which he shared with seven other men in recovery, Goodridge called home, excited that he had just bought a car and landed a job as a food delivery driver.
Radu fears the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the overdose crisis, which was declared a public-health emergency in 2016, into the shadows. People should be jolted out of complacency, she said, by the fact that 1,386 people have died of drug overdoses in B.C. this year.
Radu said the B.C. government has acted decisively to deal with COVID-19, and she wishes it would tackle the toxic drug supply with the same sense of urgency.
“Something needs to be done and it needs to be done now. Are they just a disposable part of our community?” she said.
In Victoria, 115 people have died of overdoses in 2020, the third highest death toll by municipality after Vancouver and Surrey. Most overdose deaths, 83 per cent, happened indoors, with 55 per cent in private homes and 28 per cent in social and supportive housing, single-room occupancy housing, shelters or hotels.
Radu said many people have a false perception that the overdose crisis only affects people without homes, but she said Goodridge had a home and a loving, supportive family. He began using recreational drugs at age 15, and heroin in 2018.
He nearly died from septic shock in August 2018, which led to a 21-month journey in and out of treatment centres that cost Radu and her husband $80,000.
Lapointe encouraged clinicians to prescribe opioids to reduce the number of people killed by toxic street drugs. She stressed the need for more treatment and recovery options.
Radu said if Morgan had access to a safe supply of pharmaceutical opioids — rather than relying on street drugs — he could have been saved.
“If Morgan could have gone somewhere and had a counsellor with him and get clean drugs and not be clouded by this black cloud of shame and stigma and judgment, he would be alive today,” she said. Instead, Radu and her two younger children, Mitchell and Lauren, face a Christmas without him.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the pandemic is having a “devastating effect” on the overdose crisis.
“This latest report shows the tragic impact this crisis is having on British Columbians, and this is a problem for all of us,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “Now more than ever, we must remove the stigma of drug use and remove the shame people feel, which keeps them from seeking help or telling friends and family.”