2021 is turning out to be another grim year when it comes to drug overdose deaths in BC.

For the third consecutive month, over five British Columbians per day lost their lives to illicit substances.

This comes as the BC Coroners Service reported 158 people passed away in March – 12 of those occurred in Northern Health.

The death toll now stands at 498 this year and if the current pace continues, the province could see 2,000 illicit drug deaths this year, smashing last year’s record-high of 1,729.

To make matters worse, the increased detection rate of benzodiazepines is throwing a curveball into the public health emergency.

According to the Coroners Service, the rate went from 15% of samples in July of 2020 to 51% as of February of this year.

In an interview with Vista Radio, Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe noted the drug is also having a negative impact on harm reduction efforts.

“Benzodiazepines do not respond to Naloxone making it very, very challenging if someone is experiencing a mixed overdose of opioids and benzodiazepines.”

“What we are finding now and what are seeing in regards to drug checking is that people think they are buying fentanyl but in fact, it is contaminated with benzodiazepines. We are seeing that more and more or people think they are buying cocaine but in fact, it’s contaminated with fentanyl.”

“The drug supply is absolutely volatile right now and unpredictable in every community of the province,” added Lapointe.

In addition, paramedics across the province responded to 1,160 calls of potential overdoses from April 16th to the 26th according to BC Emergency Health Services.

43 of those took place in Northern Health.

Lapointe mentioned the public health emergency on illicit drugs has presented its fair share of challenges to our paramedics.

“The impact on our ambulance services has been absolutely incredible. They are responding to all communities across the province to overdoses regularly. It’s very, very challenging.”

In 2020, BC paramedics responded to more than 27,000 overdose calls – that’s an average of about 74 per day.

Last July, saw the highest ever number of overdose calls in one month with paramedics responding to 27-hundred incidents with 128 of those occurring in Prince George.

In total, medics in the northern capital responded to nearly 1,000 overdose calls in 2020.

Northern Health continues to have the highest death rate out of all the health authorities in BC at 56.7 per 100,000 residents – 12 points ahead of Vancouver Coastal at 44.7.

In terms of the Health Service Delivery Area, the Northern Interior, which encompasses PG-Quesnel-Burns Lake and the Robson Valley has the third-highest drug toxicity death rate at 54.2 trailing only the Northeast (66.9) and Vancouver (63.9).

Our health authority has recorded 41 deaths up to this point in 2021, with PG responsible for 16 of those.

Sixty-nine percent of those dying from overdoses in BC are in the 30-59 age group.