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PG ties 2021 illicit drug death total after 10 more fatalities occur in September

The illicit drug crisis continues to have a firm grip here in the north.

According to data released by the BC Coroners Service, Northern Health saw 17 toxic drug deaths in September, ten of which took place in Prince George.

Province-wide, 171 suspected illicit drug deaths were tallied in September, about the same number of deaths that took place in August.

So far this year, Northern Health has seen 126 fatalities with 56 of them in PG.

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In addition, Prince George has already equaled last year’s total amount of drug overdose deaths (56) and is just three away from tying its record-high of 59 set back in 2020.

PG has the seventh-highest number of overdose deaths by city, trailing only Vancouver (401), Surrey (169), Greater Victoria (121), Abbotsford (71), Kamloops (66), and Kelowna (64).

“British Columbians are continuing to suffer the tragic effects of a toxic and volatile drug supply, with almost six members of our communities dying each day,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner.

“Both those who use drugs occasionally and those who are substance-dependent are at risk of sudden death from the unpredictable illicit market. Individuals who have been abstinent for a period of time or those who normally use stimulants are at increased risk. Their opioid tolerance is low and the prevalence of fentanyl in the illicit supply is high.”

Despite having the fewest number of overdose deaths among all the health authorities, Northern Health still has the highest drug toxicity death rate at 54.9 per 100,000 people.

Since January 2021, our health authority documented 281 substance-related deaths equating to 13.4 per month – outpacing the Greater Victoria area, which only saw 260 fatalities over the same time period.

In terms of the Health Service Delivery Area, the Northern Interior, which includes PG-Quesnel-Burns Lake and the Robson Valley has the third-highest drug toxicity death rate of 60.3– only Vancouver (73.2) and Northwest (65.0) ranked higher.

The Coroners Service noted 71% of those dying so far in 2022 are between the ages of 30 and 59.

Furthermore, the public health emergency is taking its toll on older adults. For the third consecutive month, residents in the 50-59 demographic tallied the most overdose deaths by age group in BC.

This demographic also has the highest age-specific drug toxicity death rate at 76.1 followed by those in the 40-49 age range at 76.

September is the 24th consecutive month in which at least 150 deaths suspected to have been caused by illicit drug toxicity were reported to the BC Coroners Service.

Between July 2020 and August 2022, etizolam was found in 38% of suspected overdose deaths in BC. Etizolam is a benzodiazepine analogue and non-opioid sedative that does not respond to naloxone.

1,644 people have passed away province-wide this year. No deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.

At least 10,505 British Columbians have been lost to illicit drugs since the public-health emergency into substance-related harms was first declared in April 2016.

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