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New West hit hard by unregulated drug crisis: 16 deaths in six months

Death count climbs in B.C. – 1,228 deaths so far in 2023 in toxic drug crisis
Grim news: The latest report from the BC Coroners Service shows that 1,228 British Columbians have died of an unregulated toxic drug supply in 2023, including 184 people in June 2023. photo BC Coroners Service

Sixteen people in New Westminster died of toxic unregulated drugs in the first six months of 2023 — with three new deaths being reported in June.

Preliminary data from the BC Coroners Service shows that 16 people in New West died from toxic drugs between January and June, an increase from the 13 deaths that had been reported until the end of May.

Provincewide, the coroner is reporting there were 184 suspected unregulated drug deaths in June. Preliminary data suggests 1,228 deaths in B.C. have been attributed to toxic drugs in the first six months of 2023.

“The June numbers represent a 17 per cent increase over the numbers of deaths in June 2022 (157) and a two per cent increase over the number of deaths in May 2023,” said the report. “The number of unregulated drug deaths in June 2023 equates to about 6.1 deaths per day.”

According to the BC Coroners Service, 70 per cent of the people who have died this year were between 30 and 59 years of age; 77 per cent were male.

“British Columbia is continuing to lose community members at record rates as a result of the toxicity of the unregulated drug market,” chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said in a news release. “Illicit fentanyl continues to drive the crisis, which is causing deaths in large and small municipalities, towns and cities across the province. This health emergency is not confined to one neighbourhood or one demographic. Anyone accessing an illicit substance is at risk of serious harm or death.”

The coroners service reports that illicit fentanyl continues to be the primary driver in unregulated drug deaths, as has been the case for more than a decade.

Some other facts from this month’s report:

* The communities experiencing the highest number of unregulated drug deaths from January to June 2023 are: Vancouver (328); Surrey (116); and Greater Victoria (80). The 1,228 deaths in 2023 has touched communities across B.C., including: Nanaimo (66); Kelowna (48); Abbotsford (44); Kamloops (43); Prince George (39); Chilliwack (35); Langley (25); Vernon (21); Burnaby (19); and Coquitlam (10).

* Unregulated drug toxicity is the leading cause of death in British Columbia for persons aged 10 to 59, accounting for more deaths than homicides, suicides, accidents and natural disease combined.

*In 2023, 81 per cent of unregulated drug deaths occurred indoors – 47 per cent in private residences and 34 per cent inside other residences, including social and supportive housing, SROs, shelters, hotels and other indoor locations. Eighteen per cent of the deaths occurred outside in vehicles, sidewalks, streets, parks, etc.

* At 67 per cent, smoking was the most common mode of consumption, followed by: injection (16 per cent); nasal insufflation (13 per cent); and oral (five per cent).

* At least 12,509 British Columbians have lost their lives to unregulated drugs since the public health emergency was first declared in April 2016.

“As coroners, we speak every day to families who are grieving the loss of a loved one,” Lapointe said. “Our agency continues to recommend rapid expansion of a safer drug supply throughout the province to reduce the significant harms associated with the toxic illicit drug market and prevent future deaths.”