Preliminary data released by the BC Coroners Service confirms that more than 1,600 British Columbians lost their lives to toxic, unregulated drugs in the first eight months of 2023 – including 26 in New Westminster.
The 174 deaths reported to the BC Coroners Service in August represent the lowest total recorded in a single month since June 2022, and equate to about 5.6 lives lost per day. The coroners service cautioned people from drawing conclusions regarding trends from a single month of data, particularly given that recent data is preliminary and is subject to change as investigations are completed and causes of death are confirmed.
"We are continuing to lose members of our communities in heartbreaking numbers as a result of the toxicity of the illicit drug market," chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said in a news release. "No town, neighbourhood or family is immune from this crisis, and as the years of this public-health emergency go by, more and more British Columbians are experiencing the devastating loss of a friend, colleague or family member to the illicit-drug supply."
This month’s report, which is for January to Aug. 31, shows that 26 people are now suspected to have died from the drug-poisoning crisis in New West. That’s up from the 20 people in New West, as stated in last month’s preliminary data, who were suspected to have died of toxic drugs between January and July 31.
According to the coroners service, aggregated data reveals that smoking remains the dominant mode of consumption, with almost two-thirds of death investigations in 2023 involving decedents who consumed substances in this manner.
“This continues a pattern first observed in 2017, and further underscores the need for spaces for people who use drugs to smoke them safely,” said the news release. “About eight in every 10 deaths in 2023 has occurred inside, another trend that has remained consistent for several years.”
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 diseases combined.
The lives of at least 12,929 British Columbians have been lost to unregulated drugs since the public-health emergency was first declared in April 2016, states the coroners service.
"The relentlessness and scale of this public-health crisis requires a proportionate response," Lapointe said. "The BC Coroners Service continues to recommend urgent, collaborative action on the part of ministries and health authorities to co-ordinate a provincewide continuum of care that saves lives. Improvements in the quality and reach of harm reduction and evidence-based treatment services are essential, as is the critical need to ensure that those at risk of dying can access safer, regulated drugs. If we cannot implement these changes, our loved ones will continue to die."