BC sets record for most overdose deaths in single year

Most OD deaths in a year

Updated 11:10 a.m.

Among the 1,716 provincial overdose deaths, 281 occurred in the Interior region – seven times more than a decade ago, a record high for the region.

In 2020, there was a 74 per cent increase over the number of deaths recorded in 2019 bringing the death toll to 1,716. This number equates to 4.7 deaths per day – 2 deaths per day higher than last year (2.7).

Drugs have claimed more lives in B.C. than car crashes, homicides, suicides and prescription-drug related deaths combined.

In Kelowna, 61 people died last year, up from 34 in 2019. Kamloops saw 60 overdose deaths up from 25, while Vernon saw 26 deaths up from 14.

"The impacts of COVID-19 highlighted the immensely precarious situation of those experiencing problematic substance use in our province" says Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner.

"It's clear that urgent change is needed to prevent future deaths and the resulting grief and loss so many families and communities have experienced across our province," she adds.

In 2020, 69 per cent of those deaths were people aged 30 to 59 and 81 per cent were men.

Since the pandemic hit, there has been a spike in the Interior's overdose deaths. November was the deadliest month with 34 deaths.

The province notes that no deaths have been reported at drug overdose prevention sites.

Original 10:54 a.m.

British Columbia's chief coroner says the province recorded the most deaths ever in a single year due to an unnatural cause, with 1,716 lives lost to illicit drug overdoses in 2020.

Lisa Lapointe says that's an "alarming" death rate of 33.4 per 100,000 people and it far surpassed fatalities due to suicides, homicides, motor vehicle crashes and prescription drug deaths combined.

Lapointe says harm reduction measures, such as overdose prevention sites, were starting to have an effect in 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic drove people back inside their homes where they use drugs alone.

She says most people dying are males in private homes, and it's not just limited to any one area but is happening in communities across the province.

B.C. declared a public health emergency in 2016 after a significant increase in overdose deaths caused by powerful opioids.

Lapointe says it's time to decriminalize drugs so that public health officials can reduce the harm associated with substance use.

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