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Despite a recent decline, overdose mortality remains high and the public health emergency continues

The provincial statistics for illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2019 released today by the BC Coroner’s service, show deaths have declined 36 per cent from 2018 to 2019.
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Although a decline in deaths is encouraging, overdoses remain a crisis in B.C., with an average of 2.7 people in BC dying every day in 2019.  Wide access to harm reduction and development of a comprehensive system of care remain key goals for saving and improving lives. 

BCCDC is responsible for the monitoring and evaluation of the overdose crisis and response efforts in BC. Data from key indicators and surveillance of trends are used to understand overdose risk and strategize response activities. Analysis from BC Provincial Overdose Cohort, which uses de-identified data on persons who have experienced a drug-related overdose in B.C, allows deeper inquiry to better understand the journeys, and gaps experienced by British Columbians at risk of overdose.

Here are five things these data tell us about the ongoing overdose crisis and public health emergency:

1. Illicit drug toxicity is leading cause of preventable death in British Columbia

  • Before fentanyl appeared in the drug supply, drug deaths were the third leading cause of unnatural death.
  • Deaths due to drug toxicity are now the leading cause of unnatural death in B.C., surpassing homicides, suicides and motor vehicle incidents combined.
2. Every B.C. community has been affected by the illicit drug toxicity crisis.

  • Of the 13,900 overdose deaths nationwide between 2016 and June 2019, one-third occurred in B.C.
  • Mortality rates in some smaller and mid-sized communities exceed those of the urban centres.
3. Overdose Deaths remain high and the emergency continues

  • 82 people on average died each month in 2019 or 2.7 people per day.
  • While this is a relative decline from 128 deaths per month in 2018, deaths are still twice as high as the monthly average prior to the introduction of fentanyl in the drug supply.
4. There has been no reprieve in non-fatal overdose events

  • Paramedic-attended overdose events have increased each year since 2016 and continue at historical highs in 2019.
  • Paramedics respond to an average of 66 calls per day related to overdose.
5. Harm reduction and treatment prevent death

  • Deaths would be even higher without the combined harm reduction efforts to make safer spaces for drug use, treatment options and naloxone available.
  • Models estimate that 60 per cent of all possible overdose deaths have been averted. That's up to 5,861 deaths averted from January 2015 to June 2019.
  • British Columbians continue to experience unprecedented rates of overdose-related harms due to an unregulated drug supply that is unpredictable and highly toxic.




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