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B.C. faces record numbers in illicit drug overdoses, since the onset of COVID-19

Over the past five months, British Columbia has observed record high overdose numbers that exceed total deaths from COVID-19 in the province. To date, COVID-19 has led to 219 deaths in the province of British Columbia, according to the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC). Since March, 749 reported deaths from illicit drug overdoses of various street drugs and medications not prescribed but acquired from the streets.

BCCDC reported 175 overdose deaths in July alone - the second-highest monthly total in over a decade. The month prior witnessed 177 deaths, with an additional 174 deaths in May. According to the most current data from the BCCDC, the number of illicit drug overdoses in the province alone at 909 deaths. Those numbers rival that of 2018 and the record-high 2017, where 917 and 956 deaths were reported.

The BC Coroners Services data reports that there are more illicit drug overdoses than deaths caused by suicides, homicides, car accidents, and prescription drugs combined. Unfortunately, overdose events have been trending in a terrible direction for the province, with men overdosing three times as often as women.

As a general population in British Columbia, overdoses account for 3.42 deaths per 100,000 people according to the same data pulled from the BCCDC. This public crisis is now seeing one of the highest spikes since the start of 2017. Even more alarming is that between 2016 and 2019, illicit fentanyl and the analogues associated were 82.8% of the drug toxicity death in British Columbia.

Furthermore, carfentanil was detected in 132 deaths involving illicit substances such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, etc. According to the National Library of Medicine, the opioid analgesic carfentanil is incredibly potent and 10,000 times that of morphine. Assuredly, these events can inflict additional pressure on paramedics. Paramedics saw one of the most massive spikes in March 2019 for illicit drug overdose being 31 events per 100,000.

One of the more positive actions taken by the government of British Columbia is its efforts to ensure ample Take Home Naloxone (THN) kits are available to the public. The exact number of THN kits shipped to sites for dispersion as of August 2020 is 29,073 and this is the most significant number of kits ever provided. These kits have reversed the overdose of 1,267 British Columbia residents in 2020.

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