B.C.’s toxic drug supply continues to take a deadly toll.

Newly released BC Coroners Service data shows that at least 1,011 people died from suspected illicit drug toxicity between January and June.

That’s the highest number recorded in the first six months of a calendar year in B.C.

In June, 159 British Columbians died, marking the ninth consecutive month that toxic drug poisoning has claimed 150 or more lives in our province. 

Drug toxicity is now the leading cause of death in B.C. for people between 19 and 39 years old, and is second in terms of reducing total potential years of life.

As with previous months, B.C.’s illicit drug supply in B.C. is both variable and increasingly toxic, with extreme fentanyl concentrations and carfentanil showing up more frequently in toxicology testing. 

Post-mortem testing shows that fentanyl continues to be the substance involved in most drug-toxicity deaths with 85 percent in the first six months of 2021. 

Cocaine, methamphetamine and etizolam are also present in significant numbers of deaths. 

The province says that data confirms, as it has throughout this public health emergency, that illicit substances are driving this health crisis. 

Prescribed safe supply is not playing a role in the ongoing drug-toxicity crisis.

“The deaths of more than 1,000 British Columbians in the first six months of 2021 is a tragic reminder that the toxic illicit drug supply remains a significant ongoing threat to public health and safety in communities throughout our province,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, BC Coroners Service. 

“The data released today highlights the immensity of this public health emergency and the need for a wide-scale response. This includes removing barriers to safe supply, ensuring timely access to evidence-based affordable treatment and providing those experiencing problematic substance use with compassionate and viable options to reduce risks and save lives.”

She added, that “today is International Overdose Awareness Day; a day in which we remember and mourn the family members, friends and neighbours we’ve lost to drug toxicity.”

“To the thousands of B.C. families grieving the loss of a beloved family member, I extend my heartfelt condolences and my hope that the stories you’ve shared will continue to influence positive change. Those who died mattered and their loss is felt deeply, and we must continue to urge those in positions of influence across our province and the country to move to urgently implement measures to prevent more unnecessary suffering and death.”

Additional key preliminary findings are below. Data is subject to change as additional toxicology results are received:

  • 71 percent of those who died as a result of suspected drug toxicity in 2021 were aged between 30 and 59, and 80 percent were male.
  • By health authority in 2021, the highest number of illicit drug-toxicity deaths were in Fraser and Vancouver Coastal Health (342 and 283 deaths), making up 62 percent of all such deaths during this period.
  • The highest rates of death were in Vancouver Coastal Health (46 deaths per 100,000 individuals) and Northern Health (45 per 100,000). Overall, the rate in B.C. is 39 deaths per 100,000 individuals.
  • Deaths due to drug toxicity remain the leading cause of unnatural death in BC.