VICTORIA — The British Columbia Coroners Service says at least 207 people died because of toxic illicit drugs in January.
Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe says in a statement the figure is the third-highest toll recorded in a calendar month since a public health emergency was declared in 2016.
The statement says the death rate remains high throughout B.C., but highlights what it says are notable increases in fatalities in small and medium-sized communities.
Eleven of the deaths in January happened in Kamloops, which the service says made it the third-most affected city in B.C. behind only Vancouver and Surrey.
The coroner's service says illicit drugs caused 19 deaths in Northern Health, equal to a death rate of 74.5 per 100,000 residents, by far the highest rate of any health authority.
The coroner also says nearly one-quarter of the drug samples tested between November and January showed extreme levels of fentanyl, almost double the number of highly toxic samples found in the previous 18 months.
Lapointe says the rising toxicity of the illicit drug supply and the vulnerability of users is well known, but there is a way forward.
"Ensuring access to safer supply, establishing a substance use system of care, and turning the focus away from punishing and stigmatizing are critical steps to resolving this public health emergency," Lapointe says in the statement.
A report released this week examined 6,007 overdose deaths in B.C. and called on the province to urgently develop a policy to distribute a safer supply of drugs and offer better health supports through a plan that would see action taken over 30, 60 and 90 days
In response, Premier John Horgan said his government has been doing its best to tackle the overdose crisis, but he believed it was too early to commit to the recommendations.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2022.
The Canadian Press