On International Overdose Awareness Day, BC Coroners Service reveals record overdose numbers

On Aug. 31, BC Coroners Service released overdose statistics from Jan. 2021 to June 2021. At 1,011 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths, the province set a new record for the six-month timeframe.

Naloxone kits, like the one pictured, are freely available across the province to mitigate overdose deaths. Photo: Bailey Gingras-Hamilton

On the same day as International Overdose Awareness Day, BC Coroners Service released illicit drug death statistics for the first six months of this year.

According to the Aug. 31 BC Coroners Service report, there were 1,011 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths between January and June 2021. This is the highest number of overdoses recorded in the first six months in the province. Last year during the same time frame, 757 overdoses were recorded, reflecting a 34 per cent increase in the number of deaths.

Although the majority of illicit drug deaths occurred in Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria, Revelstoke saw one death according to the BC Coroners Service. In the greater Thompson-Cariboo region, 68 people have died this year.

A map details overdose rates across provincial health authorities. Photo: B.C. Coroners Service

Critics share frustrations, but not solutions

As a tainted drug supply continues to fuel this crisis, critics of the B.C. NDP are speaking out against the party. Despite sharing frustrations, there are varying levels of intervention from different groups.

The B.C. Liberals issued an Aug. 31 statement on International Overdose Awareness Day, declaring that “the overdose crisis continues to worsen while no substantive action is taken by John Horgan and the NDP to prevent further tragedy.” The release highlights a proposal from the B.C. Liberals to create a Select Standing Committee on Health for “open and transparent work in full view of the public.”

Beyond this committee, the B.C. Liberals have not proposed any concrete policies to slow illicit drug deaths. Throughout the overdose crisis, advocate and community groups have stepped in to save drug users through harm reduction strategies.

However, in the face of provincial inaction, advocacy groups are pushing the law to save lives. The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), Moms Stop the Harm (MSTH) and the Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) organized a memorial march for Overdose Awareness Day in Vancouver. Afterward, the groups distributed a safe supply of heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine.

“Innocent people of all ages, every community, every race, every socioeconomic stratum are dying of toxic drugs in B.C. and across Canada. There are viable solutions to actually stop the deaths,” says Moms Stop the Harm co-founder Leslie McBain.

“We must push the governments to immediately implement a safe regulated supply of the drugs people need. We must stop the preventable deaths of our loved ones.”

Harm reduction resources for Revelstoke

In March 2021, Revelstoke Mountaineer staff questioned Interior Health (IH) about regional drug alert systems in response to climbing overdose numbers. According to IH correspondence at the time, “drug alerts that we [IH] put out generally go to local agencies and then are posted on our website and shared through social media.”

IH states these agencies include emergency departments, First Nations Health Authority and Aboriginal partners, RCMP, BC Housing, peer networks, and community agencies.

Overdose and drug checking alerts are also posted on the IH website. The last alert was posted on July 30, 2021. Beyond the IH system, there are no known poisoned drug alerts for Revelstoke.

In addition to staying vigilant of tainted supplies, there are a few steps anyone can take to mitigate overdoses.

  • Visit the Community Connections Outreach Centre during drop-in hours for harm reduction supplies and support.
  • Download the LifeGuard app, especially if using alone.
  • Carry a naloxone kit and learn how to use it. Training is available online and naloxone is free at most B.C. pharmacies.
  • Recognize the signs of an overdose.
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Bailey Gingras-Hamilton is a recent graduate of the Mount Royal University Journalism program, where she developed an interest in current events and social issues. As a chronically curious individual, she enjoys exploring new places, cuisines, and cultures.