HomeNewsIsland & CoastToxic drugs claim over 2,500 lives across B.C. in 2023

Toxic drugs claim over 2,500 lives across B.C. in 2023

At least 2,511 British Columbians died from toxic drug poisoning in 2023, according to preliminary data from the BC Coroners Service.

Officials said this is the largest number of drug-related deaths the agency has ever seen.

“Tragically, toxic, illicit drugs are continuing to cause unprecedented numbers of deaths across our province,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner.

“This crisis, driven primarily by unregulated fentanyl, has cost our province dearly in the loss of much-loved and valued members of our communities. We cannot bring our deceased loved ones back, but we can and must do much more to protect the lives of tens of thousands of our family members, friends and colleagues still at risk.”

Vancouver Island was hit hard by death rates last year. According to the province, Alberni/Clayoquot and Greater Campbell River saw some of the highest.

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The data shows that of the over 2,500 killed, 470 people were killed on Vancouver Island. The Island also had the second-highest death rate per 100,000 at 51.5.

Vancouver Island also saw 47 people die in December, which was the most recorded tying with February of that year.

In 2023, Victoria saw the most number of people killed at 145. Nanaimo was next to follow at 116, Campbell River saw 47 deaths and the entire Cowichan Valley saw 43. The Comox Valley recorded 33 and five were killed on the North Island.

Provincially, 220 British Columbians died in November and 219 were reported in December.

“The total number of lives lost in 2023 equates to an average of 6.9 deaths per day and is 5% more than the previous high of 2,383 deaths recorded a year earlier in 2022,” said B.C. government officials.

Coroners Service officials said fentanyl continues to be a major component in the province’s toxic drug supply.

“Fentanyl and its analogues were by far the most regularly detected substances, appearing in more than 85% of test results conducted in 2023,” said B.C. government officials. “The Coroners Service continues to monitor closely for the presence of prescribed safer-supply medications in its testing, with hydromorphone detected in about 3% of tests.”

According to the report, drug toxicity continues to be the leading cause of death in B.C. residents aged 10 to 59, accounting for more deaths than homicides, suicides, accidents and diseases combined.

“As we approach the eighth anniversary of the declaration of the public health emergency that has cost so many lives across B.C., our province needs a coordinated, evidence-based response that is commensurate with the scale of this health crisis,” Lapointe said. “Deaths due to drug toxicity are preventable, and I urge our political leaders at all levels to collaborate on a thoughtful, comprehensive plan that puts people first.”

The BC Coroners Service said 13,794 British Columbians have lost their lives to unregulated toxic drugs since the public health emergency was declared in April 2016.

With files from Ryley McCormack, Vista Radio

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