BC Interior records deadliest year ever for overdose

Worst drug death year ever

The B.C. Interior is coming out of its worst year ever for toxic drug deaths.

Year-end statistics published by the BC Coroners Service show the Interior Health region saw 388 people die of overdose in 2022, up from 378 the year prior.

Kamloops was the hardest hit in the region, with 96 deaths in its local health area, followed by the Central Okanagan’s 92 deaths.

Vernon’s local health area recorded 46 deaths while the Penticton area recorded 27.

Merritt’s 11 deaths last year meant it had the third-highest rate of drug toxicity death per capita in B.C., behind only Vancouver and Terrace.

Across the province, there were 2,272 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2022. That is the second largest provincial annual total, behind 2021 (2,306). The Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions are the only health authorities to see a decline in the drug death rate in 2022 compared to 2021.

Last year 84 per cent of drug deaths happened indoors—55 per cent in private residences and 29 per cent in other housing—with just 15 per cent happening outside.

Benzodiazepines, which started tainting street drugs during the pandemic with increasing prevalence, are appearing in fewer drug deaths in recent months.

The detection rate in deaths increased from 15 per cent in July 2020 to 52 per cent of samples in Jan 2022. It has since gone down to 19 per cent in December 2022.

Benzodiazepines are particularly dangerous because they do not respond to the live-saving overdose-reversing drug naloxone.

In response to the mounting death toll, the provincial government on Tuesday decriminalized small amounts of street drugs in a three-year pilot project.

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