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851 deaths this year: ‘Catastrophic impact’ outlined in B.C. coroner’s latest report

VANCOUVER — Dozens of people died in May due to suspected illicit drug overdose, bringing the total toll of the first five months of 2021 to 851 lives lost.

A report from the B.C. Coroners Service released Tuesday showed 160 people had died in the month of May alone – an average of 5.2 people per day.

“There is no way to measure the catastrophic impact that the loss of these lives have had on every community in our province. Today, I grieve with all those who have lost someone close to them as a result of this crisis,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner.

The coroner noted it’s been more than five years since B.C. first declared a public health emergency due to rising overdose deaths, yet the death toll this May was not that far off the total in the same month last year.

May 2020 saw the most-ever deaths recorded in that month, at 177.

And, Lapointe noted, the 851 lives lost between January and the end of May this year is the highest toll yet for that five-month period. Prior to this year, the most deaths in the first five months of the year was 704 in 2017.

Her latest report showed the rate of death due to toxic illicit drugs is now at 39.3 per 100,000. The previous highest rate of death was 33.6, last year.

Lapointe wrote that the drug supply itself continues to be one of the major factors, as increasingly more samples tested have contained “extreme concentrations” of fentanyl.

The B.C. Coroners Service says its latest sampling data suggests the highest rates of fentanyl reported since early 2019 and maybe before that.

Another substance found more often in recent samples is benzodiazepine, which, as Lapoint’s report reads, creates “significant life-saving challenges for first responders when used in combination with opioids.”

Carfentanil, a more potent analogue of fentanyl, is also being found in an increasing number of samples.

May is the 15th month in a row in B.C. with more than 100 deaths per month due to drug toxicity.

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