For the second consecutive month, a record number of deaths due to illicit drugs has been reported in B.C.

B.C.’s chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, says 175 people died in June, which is up from 171 deaths in May.

Prior to May, the worst month on record was December 2016, when 161 lives were lost.

“We know the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people who use drugs, as it has all British Columbians,” she said.

“Access to key harm-reduction services has been a challenge and our social networks are smaller.”

The alarming spike in deaths during the pandemic has advocates for drug users once again calling on all levels of government to immediately provide a permanent safe supply of drugs.

Guy Felicella, a peer clinical adviser with the Overdose Emergency Response Centre and B.C. Centre on Substance Use, says the alarming spike in deaths during the pandemic makes it clear that a safe supply of narcotics should have been created years ago. 

“I’m tired of waiting for what’s necessary when the calls for these changes have been made over and over again,” he said.

“I’m tired of seeing people die while waiting for access to a safer supply or access to detox or to get into recovery. The waiting is killing people.”

B.C. has recorded more than 100 overdose deaths in each of the past four months. 

There has been a total of 728 illicit drug deaths in B.C. to date in 2020, and the number of deaths in each health authority is at or near the highest monthly totals ever recorded. 

Lapointe says fentanyl continues to be the most significant driver but there are other factors playing a major role in the overdose crisis.

“It is clear this is not just an opioid epidemic, with cocaine and methamphetamine/amphetamine detected in many drug deaths we investigate,” she said.

Lapointe says they are monitoring for the presence of hydromorphone, a prescription pain medication, in post-mortem toxicity results but have seen “no evidence of a link between increased prescriptions and the increase in deaths.”

More to come.

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