Revelstoke drug overdoses claim nine lives between 2018 and May 2020

A new BC Coroners Service report lists Revelstoke among local health areas with the highest rates of illicit drug toxicity deaths in the province

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The BC Coroners Service said the 170 drug toxicity deaths reported in May marks the highest monthly total ever in the province, surpassing the previous high of 161 reported in December 2016. Photo: Pixabay

A new BC Coroners Service report on illicit drug toxicity deaths in B.C. lists Revelstoke among local health areas with the highest rates of overdose deaths in the province.

According to B.C. government statistics on illicit drug toxicity deaths and fentanyl-detected deaths to the end of May 2020, there were a total of nine overdose deaths in Revelstoke between January 2018 and May 2020.

“By local health area, the rates of illicit drug toxicity deaths are highest in Hope, Vancouver, Revelstoke, Keremeos, and North Thompson from 2018 to 2020,” the report, which includes statistics to the end of May 2020, states.

Post-mortem toxicology testing data published in the report suggests “an increase in the number of cases with extreme fentanyl concentrations in April and May 2020 compared with previous months.”

Dr. Jane Buxton, harm reduction lead for the BC Centre for Disease Control said the unpredictable and highly toxic drug supply has led to “a sustained increase in fatal and non-fatal overdoses from smoking and injection in recent months.

“COVID-19 has added challenges and people may be feeling more isolated and anxious, but it’s important to continue to buddy up, or access local overdose prevention and supervised consumption services during this time,” Buxton said in a statement released by the BC Coroners Service.

Image: BC Coroners Service

In its statement, the BC Coroners Service said the 170 drug toxicity deaths reported in May marks the highest monthly total ever in the province, surpassing the previous high of 161 reported in December 2016. This is the third consecutive month B.C. has recorded more than 100 illicit toxicity deaths.

“It is both sad and deeply frustrating to see the number of illicit drug deaths reach a new high in B.C. four years after the declaration of a public health emergency,” chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said. “Despite the many collective efforts directed at this crisis, the toxic supply continues to take the lives of our family members, friends and colleagues.”

Lapointe said the death toll would be higher, were it not for dedicated efforts taken to date, stating “we must continue to build on further access to safe [drug] supply in B.C. and for a regulated, evidence-based supportive treatment and recovery system as important pillars in preventing future deaths.”

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Guy Felicella, peer clinical advisor with BC Centre on Substance Use and the provincial Overdose Emergency Response Centre said the number of people lost as a result of drug overdose over the past four years is “unfathomable and heartbreaking.”

“More British Columbians died of overdose in one month than died in the whole first wave of COVID-19. All British Columbians should collectively share our grief and urge action to improve access to safer supply so people can get the help they need.”

“These tragic deaths are a potent reminder that we must persevere with the many interventions in place and continue in our efforts to reduce harm and stigma, stop overdoses and care for people with addiction,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer. “The overdose crisis is taking a toll on families and communities across this province, and we know the second public health emergency of COVID-19 is adding additional challenges. There is no simple solution, but we remain committed to doing all we can to support people who use drugs, as well as their families, friends and loved ones.”

There have been 554 illicit drug deaths to date in 2020 in British Columbia. Key findings from the report show 70 per cent of those dying were aged 19 to 49, with males accounting for 80 per cent of deaths this year to date. Of the illicit drug toxicity deaths reported in 2020, 85 per cent occurred inside and 13 per cent happened outside.

No deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites. Last month, the Provincial Health Services Authority launched its new Lifeguard app to help prevent overdoses. The made-in-B.C. resource is intended to reduce risk for people who use substances.

Information on current drug alerts in the province can be found at Toward the Heart.