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Toxic drug supply claims another life in New Westminster

BC Coroners Service: “No area of the province has been spared the impacts of the toxic-drug crisis.”
Nearly 200 people in B.C. died of unregulated drugs in January 2024, including one in New Westminster.

Toxic drugs claimed the life of at least one person in New Westminster in January.

The BC Coroners Service’s latest report states the ongoing drug toxicity public-health emergency continues to devastate communities throughout British Columbia, with at least 198 deaths suspected to have been caused by toxic, unregulated drugs reported to the BC Coroners Service in January 2024. That equates to about 6.4 lives lost per day in British Columbia.

The report, released Feb. 29, shows that one unregulated drug death occurred in New West in January.

In 2023, 38 unregulated drug deaths occurred in New Westminster, which was second only to the record of 47 deaths in 2021. It was also an increase from 32 deaths reported a year earlier.

According to the BC Coroners Service, about seven out of every 10 people who died in January were between 30 and 59 years of age; more than three-quarters were male.

“No area of the province has been spared the impacts of the toxic-drug crisis,” said a news release from the coroners service.

New Westminster MLA Jennifer Whiteside, who is B.C.’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, said every province is struggling with the drug-poisoning deaths and the ongoing impacts of this crisis, including Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as the eastern United States.

“I understand the pain and the urgency of this crisis. It touches every corner of our province, affecting people from all walks of life,” she said in a statement regarding the BC Coroners Service report.

At its Feb. 26 meeting, New Westminster city council unanimously passed a motion that will be forwarded to the Lower Mainland Local Government Association for consideration at its 2024 annual general meeting and conference.

The motion, put forward by councillors Tasha Henderson and Nadine Nakagawa, asks the province to increase funding for health authorities to augment existing facilities and to open new supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites, including inhalation services, across B.C. This would include municipalities that don’t currently offer this service to residents.

The motion stated that more than 13,000 people in B.C. have died of toxic drugs since 2016, including at least 2,500 in 2023.

Henderson said the motion continues the advocacy work that the City of New Westminster has already done regarding the need for funding for overdose prevention services, including inhalation services and extended hours of operation.

“And we need to see overdose prevention sites in every city,” she said at the meeting. “Because people are overdosing and dying in every single city across the province.”