Coquitlam suffers worst year for toxic-drug deaths in history

53 deaths were recorded in the Tri-Cities in 2022; 292 deaths since 2016
Unnatural causes of deaths in 2022. image supplied

A record number of people died in Coquitlam in 2022 from B.C.’s toxic drug supply.

BC Coroners Service released its year-end report on Jan. 31, which tracks trends and statistics related to the province’s ongoing health crisis.

More than 11,000 people in B.C. have died since the province declared a public health emergency in April, 2016. A total of 2,272 people died due to the toxic drug crisis in 2022, the second deadliest year on record. There were 2,306 drug toxicity deaths in 2021.

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Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said six people die every day in B.C. due to the unregulated drug supply, adding that it’s the leading cause of unnatural death.

She urged for increases to B.C.’s safe-supply programs and evidence-based care systems, which were advocated for by the Standing Committee on Health and multiple death-review panels conducted by the coroners service.

”The reality is that these deaths are preventable,” Lapointe said. “Toxicology data confirms that the drug supply in British Columbia is increasingly volatile and life-threatening.

“Those dying are our family members, neighbours, friends and colleagues. Urgent action is required to reduce the significant risks that tens of thousands of British Columbians are currently facing.”

Thirty-two people died in Coquitlam in 2022, breaking the record of 31 deaths set in 2021. Fifty-three deaths were recorded throughout the Tri-Cities last year, bringing the total to 292 deaths since 2016.

Dr. Paxton Bach, co-medical director of the British Columbian Centre on Substance Use, said that for every death, 10 more people are suffering a debilitating consequence from a non-fatal overdose.

“These figures reflect the overwhelming number of human stories that we as physicians are seeing on a daily basis. There is no industry, no socio-economic class, no geographic region in the province that is not being touched by this crisis,” Bach said. 

“This has gone on for too long, and demands the urgent and co-ordinated response from all sectors that such a crisis deserved from the beginning.”

Fraser North counted a total of 191 deaths: 69 dead in Burnaby, 30 dead in New Westminster, and 36 in Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge.

Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health had the highest number of illicit drug deaths among B.C.’s health authorities, with 680 and 637 deaths, respectively. 

Vancouver, Surrey and Greater Victoria were the cities where the most deaths were reported. Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside area recorded 319 deaths, accounting for 14 percent of the provincial total.

Data trends

Post-mortem toxicology results continue to show that fentanyl is the dominant drug related to drug deaths in the province.

A decade ago, other opioids, like heroin, were detected in approximately 80 percent of deaths, today they only account for 20 percent.

Illicit fentanyl was detected, alone or in combination with other drugs, in 82 percent of cases in 2022, according to preliminary data.

Extreme fentanyl concentrations were detected in 14 percent of cases between April, 2020, and November, 2022.

Over a review of the last three years, the top four drugs related to death were fentanyl (86 percent), cocaine (45 percent), methamphetamine/amphetamine (42 percent), and other opioids (22 percent).

image supplied

Fatal deaths often occuring when drugs are used in combination with other drugs.

Detection of benzodiazepines – a sedative that counteracts the effectiveness of naloxone – has fallen from a peak of 52 percent of death cases in January, 2022, to 19 percent in December.

However, etizolam, an sedative similar to benzodiazepines, was found in 35 percent of cases between June 2020 and August, 2022.

Carfentanil, a tranquilizer used by vets on large animals like elephants, was detected in over 300 cases in the last two years.

There is no indication that prescribed safe supply drugs are contributing to the provincial death tally, according to a statement from BC Coroners Service.

Men accounted for 79 percent of deaths in 2022, and 70 percent of people dying were between the ages of 30 and 59.

The vast majority of deaths occurred inside, nearly 55 percent in private residences and 29 percent in social and supportive housing, SROs, shelters, and hotels.

Only 15 percent of deaths occurred outside, in vehicles, sidewalks, streets, or parks.

One death occurred at an overdose prevention site.

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